I am taking a break this week. This article was first published on 6 March 2008.
You have decided to take control of your email, and answer it when YOU decide, not be at the beck and call of every email that comes in. So you set up specific times when you answer emails, and you stick to that schedule. However, as you are processing through the email box, more email pours in, and you end up answering email for a much longer time than you had intended. What’s a savvy email user to do?
This method was inspired by the closed-list philosophy of Mark Forster in Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management. We will process existing email into folders, then only work on the folders.
Processing Closed Email Lists
Step 1: Set up your folders
In order to make this work, we need to have folders set up in our email program. Here are the folders I use, based on what I do with email:
- Process: this is where I put all the email I am going to work on for the batch processing. This eliminates the stream of incoming email and leaves it to be processed next time. This is analogous to closing the list.
- Redirect: This is where I will put email to forward. These are usually emails where it came to me by mistake, or where someone needs to be apprised of a situation.
- Respond: These are the emails I need to respond to.
- Waiting For: These emails are the ones where I am waiting for something: an order, a piece of information, or a decision, usually.
- Read Later: This is where the emails where I have to take time to think out a reply after reading the email closely. Very rarely used.
- Archive folders: I have these set up with the first letter of the alphabet, and just file. While not an optimum filing system for some people, I rarely have trouble finding things.
Step 2: Empty your inbox
Take everything in your inbox and put it in Process. Close your inbox.
Step 3: Process the email
Take everything in the Process folder and get it into one of the other folders. If you can delete it, do. Otherwise sort the email into the folders. This will be a quick scan of the email (don’t read it thoroughly!), enough to determine your action. For 50 emails this takes me about 2 minutes.
Step 4: Process the folders
For each of the folders, process until empty. Forward as necessary, respond. If you need to come back to it, you can.
By drawing the line of what email you will process in a sitting, you will gain further control over your email, and not get hooked into processing it as it comes in.
Photo by gailjadehamilton