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Managing Vast Quantities Of E-mail

In today’s world of easy, voluminous communication and cheap storage which facilitates lengthy retention periods, it’s hard not to become crushed beneath the sheer weight of personalized information in the form of e-mail. I have spent several hours over the last two days shuffling through literally hundreds and hundreds of e-mail messages in both personal and work accounts.

I’m not completely unorganized, so what is it that makes falling behind so easy as to be a near inevitability? For me personally (and perhaps for you as well) there are several forces working against me.

  • Good intentions — If I get an e-mail, it’s implied that the message is important enough for me to at least read. That implication isn’t always true. I still get to decide whether or not I should spend time on it! Sometimes an e-mail also requires a thoughtful response which takes time, and if I can’t answer right then, the only reasonable thing to do is leave it there in my inbox, right? What if it’s a link to a lengthy article that I want to read? That might sit for a really long time!
  • Lack of time (or other priorities) — There’s only so much time in the day, and if it comes down to keeping up on my e-mail or eating/sleeping/playing with the kids/getting the job done at work/etc., which will I choose?
  • Procrastination — Sad but true.
  • Habits that make it hard to keep up — Most of us develop ways of dealing with items (physical or virtual) around us that are capable of dealing the reasonable volumes of those items. The trouble is that “reasonable” is relative and the volumes tend to increase over time. That means that our MO must evolve to keep up.
  • Spam — It’s not just what’s for breakfast; it’s always waiting for you in your inbox. Spam makes the prospect of facing an e-mail inbox even less appetizing . . . er . . . inviting.

What can be done?

  • Stop the bleeding — Like weight, financial, or virtually any other problem, the root cause must be identified and addressed.
  • Be honest (and fair) with yourself — If you really don’t care about reading an article, file (or better yet, delete) the e-mail and forget about it. If you can’t get away with that, scan it quickly and then file or delete it.
  • Inboxes shouldn’t be To-Do Lists — Come up with an effective way of managing your tasks, but let it be outside your inbox. Personally I like Effexis Achieve Planner, but I’ll talk more about that in another post.
  • Touch it once (or at a maximum, twice) — Respond right away, even if it’s just a quick note. “Git ‘er done!” Don’t waste time looking at the same e-mail multiple times; that’s counter-productive!
  • Commit to do better — It’s up to each of us to manage our personal affairs; nobody else can do it for us. Therefore we must take responsibility for the problem and work towards a worthy goal.

Question(s) of the day:

What are some tips & tricks you’ve come across for managing your e-mail effectively?

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