How to Sort your S#%t Out – Emails 101

Let me set the scene. You have just returned from your annual leave – tanning on the beaches of Thailand. The cocktails are still fresh on your tastebuds, your tan lines shining bright under the fluorescent office lights. Your computer whirs to a start as Outlook opens, and then the dreaded updating of emails starts while you make your morning coffee. First sip taken as you sit down. 2387 unread emails. Where do you even start, and do we have to?

I always like to lead with the bad news. Yes you have to start, it is your job and that is how you paid for Thailand after all. But the good news? I’m about to explain to you how easy it is to get that number from 2387 to 0 – or at least just 5-10 and maintain your inbox at that level. I can hear you rolling your eyes already with suspicion, but trust me, it is easy.

These 4 rules is all it takes.

1. The Scroll Bar Rule– This rule will ensure you get organised, and stay on top of it all. If your Inbox has a scroll bar, meaning you have to scroll down more than a page to see all of your emails, then in my mind – you are disorganised. I know that might hurt to hear but this truly is the one and only way I can ease my anxiety about my workload.

This rule works hand in hand with my next rule.

2. Stop Hoarding – Everyone knows someone (or maybe that someone is you) that has those little red icons on their phones with their unread emails or unseen notifications. They literally hurt my heart, I just have to do something about it. How does anyone cope with seeing this every time they use their phone?!

Taking into account that scroll bars and hoarding are the enemy, it’s now time to start work. Well, kind of, deleting emails gives me a weird sense of satisfaction and I hope to pass that on to you.

Ok, group emails – at our workplace, people send emails to a group address so our whole team reads it. If you have been on leave and your colleagues haven’t, chances are they have already actioned that email. Ask them what they have/haven’t done. If they have actioned it, then you can delete it!

Now the hoarding. When you have completed an email, delete it. There is absolutely no need to hold onto all of these emails in your inbox. Keeping every email is a sure fire way to remain unproductive and to lose time. Every morning you have to spend time figuring out which ones you have already completed and which ones you haven’t. In an ideal world, everyone’s inbox will act as a To Do List. You should have only a small number of emails at any one time and these indicate work in progress. This, of course, relates back to the Scroll Bar rule.

Unfortunately now is where I may lose you, it’s time to start the real work and really forget about that glorious white sand and clear blue sea you spent your last few weeks in.

3. Categories – Outlook designed these pretty little coloured Categories to make your life easier. The colours can be changed, the names can be edited, and it’s a simple 2 click process. First you need to organise the categories (i.e. Need to Call, Need to Reply, Speak to Management, Action Needed, Awaiting a response etc) . Then you can start assigning them to your emails. Once you have finished, it’s time to actually do something about them. Action all of your call backs at once, then action all of the emails you need to reply to, then look at the emails awaiting a response to see if anything has happened or whether you need to follow up again. So on and so forth. You will find that completing similar tasks in one block of time you will achieve a lot more compared to chopping and changing the tasks you complete throughout the day and you can start deleting even more emails.

4. Folders – Just so you don’t think me an utter email loon, I understand there will be emails you need to keep a hold of because they contain important information. These can be moved into specific folders and kept for a period of time, however I guarantee you need less folders than you currently have and you keep many emails for longer than they are relevant. As an example, I recently went through my Managing Director’s folders and he had emails in his IT folder from 2007. We have moved offices thrice, changed database twice and moved to a VOIP phone system in this time, so the information was so out of date, he even managed to look a little embarrassed (and this is the guy that once dressed up in a variety of clothes – male and female – to help illustrate what we meant by a smart professional dress code).

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