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Organized & Productive 
March, 2016     

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Managing the E-mail Monster
(part 2)

Last month, I started a list of tips to make managing your e-mail less overwhelming. The focus was on eliminating habits that generate more e-mail for your in-box. This month, the focus is on managing the e-mail that does arrive, and the best ways to keep it from overtaking your schedule, inhibiting your productivity, and causing more stress in your home and workplace.
Once an e-mail hits your in-box, having specific procedures for how to deal with it will help keep you on top of the pile before it gets out of control. Try some of these techniques to get and stay out from under.
1. Unsubscribe
Is your in-box filled with solicitations, store ads, catalog specials, and newsletters that you either never signed up for, or never have time to read? Unsubscribe! Scroll down to the bottom of the e-mail you don't want to receive any more (or never wanted to receive to begin with) and search the fine print at the bottom. Eventually (it may take some searching), you will find a button that says, "to unsubscribe, click here" or something similar. It's buried in the fine print and hard to find because they figure if it takes long enough and they make it hard enough, you'll give up. That's their ticket into your in-box, and from there, into your time, your energy, and your life. It may take a few extra seconds one time, but reducing the pile of unwanted stuff in your in-box will not only save you time in the long run, it will make determining what IS important and managing it much easier if you don't have to sort through the junk to find it. Think about sorting through a huge pile of papers to find the one paper you need. If you find you're doing the same thing to find a specific e-mail in your in-box, you're keeping too much in that box.

If there is no option to unsubscribe (which is legally required), report it to your server as spam. You can also set up filters to block the offending e-mails from ever even reaching your in-box.
2. Deal with the backlog
If you have an overwhelmingly huge backlog of emails sitting in your in-box from years past, it's no different from having piles of paper stacked up around your office that are years old and out of date. They're just getting in the way and cluttering up your mind and your space. People keep an enormous in-box of email for many reasons. Either they're afraid of losing some important piece of information, or they're under the delusion that they're ever going to have the time or the desire to deal with requests and issues that are years old. Face it. If you have hundreds, or even thousands of unanswered e-mails in your in-box that are more than a few weeks old, folks have either gotten the answer or information they need somewhere else, the issue is resolved or irrelevant now, or they've simply given up. In any case, thinking you're going to take the time to address this stuff at any time in the near future is unrealistic and self-defeating. If you can't bring yourself to do a mass delete, take all the e-mails from a specific year and move them all into a folder marked with that year. For example, all e-mails from 2014 go into a folder marked "E-mails - 2014", "E-mails - 2015," etc. It won't make them go away, you will still have them to refer to if you need them, but they will be out of your in-box and will allow you to start fresh.
3. Don't use your in-box as your to-do list
The temptation to let to-do items linger in your in-box as a reminder to get them done works only as long as you keep your in-box to less than 10 items. If you accumulate more than that, your box just becomes visually cluttered, and e-mails disappear below the scroll line. Once out of sight, they risk being out of mind, too. I suggest getting any action item on to an actual task list and scheduled onto your calendar. Remember that a to-do list is only theoretical - it's merely a list of things that you need or want to get done. Nothing happens with that list unless those items are actually given a specific time for action in your daily or weekly calendar. Once you've added the item to your task list and calendar, the e-mail can be deleted, or saved in a folder for needed information. The reminder becomes an actionable item on your to-do list and in your schedule, and the amount of e-mails lingering in your in-box is reduced and easier to manage.
4. Use labels, folders and filters
One way to keep your in-box from becoming overwhelmed with a large number of e-mails is to take advantage of the folder system available in your e-mail server. Different servers may have different terminology for this process - in Outlook, it's folders. In G-mail, it's labels. This means setting up categories for e-mails just as you would a paper file folder in a filing cabinet. If there is an e-mail with information in it that you would like to save, just move that e-mail to the appropriate folder. I would caution against setting up too many folders. Keep your categories broad, keep the number of your folders to no more than 8 - 10, and take advantage of the search feature in your server to find what you want (this is where electronic files have an advantage over paper files!) It gets the volume out of your in-box and makes it easier to pay attention to the important stuff, just like getting papers off the top of your desk and into files. And by the way, electronic folders need cleaning out and purging once a year just like paper folders!

Also take some time to learn how to use filters to direct some e-mails to avoid your in-box altogether. If there is a specific newsletter you'd like to read later, or an organization that you're part of that sends you regular e-mail that can be addressed at a later time, set up a filter to have those e-mails sent directly to a folder set up for them. The challenging part of this is having some kind of reminder system in place to check those folders on a regular basis. In order to do that, read on.
5. Schedule time for e-mail
Until you actually schedule time for something on your calendar, it will never happen. Staying on top of e-mail requires setting aside specific time to do so in your schedule for the day. Schedule appointments in your day to review and deal with e-mail, just as you would schedule a meeting or client appointment. If you've set up filters to send categories of e-mails to folders without going into your in-box first, make sure you have time scheduled in your calendar to specifically check those folders. Once a week may be enough, but getting into a routine of checking what has accumulated on a regular basis will help you to stay on top of things.

There have been several publications recently that espouse the practice to "never check e-mail in the morning." While the rationale is good, it's not always realistic. The reasoning behind this philosophy is that when you get caught up in checking and dealing with e-mail first thing in your day, you allow others to dictate how you structure your day and utilize your time. Time slips away, spent reading and dealing with things that can be scheduled for action at another time. Your job may require that you do, indeed, check your e-mail first thing in the morning, particularly if your boss demands quick response time to e-mail. However, prioritizing what needs to be dealt with immediately, and what can be delegated to another time for action is crucial to managing your time. Set aside specific time each day to deal with e-mail - perhaps the hour before lunch, and again at the end of the day - or whatever works best for your schedule. Then, in the interim, turn off all alerts and resist the temptation to just take a quick peek. It will help you avoid being drawn in to using your most productive time for things that may not deserve that kind of priority.
Getting on top and staying on top of your e-mail requires diligence and often establishing new habits. Putting into practice methods of generating less e-mail, more efficient e-mails, and keeping the junk out of your in-box will go a long way towards making it less overwhelming. Don't let the electronic mail monster devour your time and energy - try some new ways of dealing with it and you will be gratified by the results!

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Lisa S. Griffith

Hear Lisa Speak

on Organizing & Productivity

"Making Your Kitchen Work: Kitchen Organizing Secrets from a Professional Organizer" - presentation 
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
12:00 - 1:00 pm
Brown University
(Faculty & Staff)
Providence, RI

"Tips for an Organized Business" - presentation  
Friday, April 22, 2016
7:30 am
Bristol County Business Connect Group
Rockland Trust, Somerset, MA

"Get Your Time & Space in ORDER" - presentation  
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
12:00 - 1:00 pm
(Faculty & Staff)
Warren Alpert School of Medicine of Brown University
Providence, RI

"The Four Organizing Traps" - presentation 
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
12:00 - 1:00 pm
Brown University
(Faculty & Staff)
Providence, RI


In order, in joy, 



Lisa S. Griffith, CPOŽ 
The Organized Way
Organizing & Productivity Specialist/Speaker 
Phone:  (401) 289-0042
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