Bring Order to Your Electronic Clutter, Part II

In Bringing Order to Your Electronic Clutter, Part I we explored methods to name and file electronic documents.  In Part II we will investigate ways to bring your e-mail clutter under control.  First, I want you to consider who sends you e-mail, why they send it, what action you need to take on it, and whether or not you need to save it.

Let’s start with the saving of e-mail.  You may have heard that people never look at 80% of the papers they have filed.  I would wager that the same statistic holds true for e-mail.  So, your first step is to keep only the 20% that you will reference in the future.  The rest of this article assumes that you have decided that a certain e-mail is worth retaining.

Next, consider whether or not an e-mail requires action.  If you can complete the action in five minutes or less, do it now.  It will take longer to add the task to a to-do list and reference it later than it will to complete it now.  If the action requires input from others, research, or some other undertaking, you must determine what to do next.  You have choices:

  • Print out the e-mail
  • Add the task to an electronic to-do listemailicon
  • Add the task to a paper to-do list
  • Create a folder in your e-mail called “To Do” and create time in your schedule to work on tasks that are in that folder

After you have deleted e-mails you don’t need and acted on those that need action, you are left with ones that you will need to reference in the future.  These get filed according to the file structure you set up after you read

Bringing Order to Your Electronic Clutter, Part I.  If you haven’t set up your e-mail file structure, now is a great time to get started!

Ideas worth exploring:

  • Can you remove the attachment but keep the e-mail?  If so, file the attachment in the appropriate folder on your hard drive and file the e-mail in an appropriate folder only if it contains information that is valuable.
  • Can you rename e-mails that have been sent to you?  If so, rename any e-mail that has a subject line that doesn’t tell you something about the content of the e-mail.  (Outlook lets you do this.)
  • Can you set up filters?  If so, consider filtering e-mails from certain sources into specific folders.  You may already be doing this for spam.  It can be done for other e-mail as well.  I have any electronic newsletters go directly to a Newsletter folder.  I read them as I have extra time.  I have e-mails from a certain group I belong to go into an X Group folder.  Then once a day I go through them.
  • If you do not like (or don’t have time to read) the jokes or stories that people send you, ask them to remove you from their forwarding list.
  • Only check and process e-mails at two or three designated times each day.  Getting caught in the flurry of checking and responding to e-mail constantly during the day will not only create more e-mail but it will diminish your ability to effectively complete other tasks on your to-do list.
  • If you have not checked your e-mail for several days, begin by deleting as many as possible and then read from the oldest to the most recent.

Any steps you can take to decrease the number of e-mails entering your inbox and to methodically process those that do, will reduce the “overwhelm” created from seeing a full inbox.



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