The Elements

By Ironstone   |   April 4, 2013

Held Hostage By Your Inbox? Must Try Solutions!

Categories: Blog, Operational Effectiveness, Time Management

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Cemented in my mind is the image of some people, who shall remain nameless, rushing to their phones or other devices to check email first thing in the morning! How much time do you spend sorting through emails? How much time do you imagine your staff is spending sorting through emails? Wasted time on email fixation is detrimental to productive time that should be spent elsewhere.

S. Anthony Iannarino is my inspiration in writing this blog to save myself and others from email hostage. Iannarino shares insight on those overly obsessed with email, “They are of the unfortunate breed of lost souls that live in their email inbox. They’re subject to other people’s priorities and other people’s whims.” Iannarino points out the reduction of productivity by businesses (leaders and team members) who live in their inbox.

Searching For An Escape
Whether your inbox holds a few hundred or a few thousand emails, the solution is to find a way to organize them. There are several applications available to receive and send emails, but just like many professionals, I want to find solutions to organize email, reduce email burden and create productive time for myself and my team.

In my quest for relief, I found some remarkable options. I suggest trying these ideas yourself and sharing with your team. It truly is time to put productivity first and email last.

Released From Email Hostage

I have been excited, along with many others, about the new Mailbox app. Mailbox is an iOS app from Palo Alto, CA-based Orchestra, which was previously best known for building a to-do-list app (also called Orchestra). My interest level flat lined as I learned Mailbox will only interface with the iPhone and Gmail accounts. Anyone depending on Outlook or Exchange is left in the dark. I would love to include it in my list of favorites, but the limitations kept me away from it. (If you are a Gmail user, this may be a premium choice for you!)

My favorite finds:

Sanebox: Sanebox works anywhere you read your email and is available for users of Gmail, Exchange, Yahoo, AOL, Apple Mail, Outlook, iPhone, Android and more. Sanebox willdetermine the importance of each email, move unimportant messages out of your inbox into a separate folder and summarize them for you.

Sanebox gives you the option to defer an email until you are ready to read it with choices of placing the email in the SaneTomorrow, SaneNextWeek or a custom defer folder. Sanebox will place the email back in your inbox when the time comes. Although not expensive, Sanebox does come at a cost.

Outlook: After exhausting my efforts to find an app to organize my email, the best option I could find for myself, as an Outlook user, is within Outlook itself.

My first step involved synchronizing all of my devices so I am only processing email one time. With a Google Business Account you can use Google apps to connect your Outlook, phone and iPad to access your email, calendar, contacts and tasks from all of your devices.

Turn on the conversation feature within Outlook. When the conversation feature is on, messages in your Inbox and other email folders can be organized by conversation and date. This feature works well when there are several emails in a conversation allowing you to delete previous emails and save the latest conversation. This feature is available in Outlook 2010. If you are using an earlier version of Outlook, you may still have the option to view conversations by choosing the VIEW tab and selecting conversations.

Set Up Action & Reference Folders: This tip is somewhat self-explanatory. Action folders are for emails requiring action and reference folders are for emails with no action needed. Items in your reference folder might include permanent records, tax information or legal requirements. Tip: When you create your action folders, type a period in front of the action folder name. This will move the action folder to the top of the list. You can also use numbers 01,02,03 etc.

Subfolders: Create subfolders within your action folder. Some suggestions:

  • This Week
  • Delegated
  • Leads
  • Projects
  • Print
  • Waiting For/Pending

You can also create subfolders in connection with your reference folder. Separating your action and reference emails will help you gain control on what requires your attention.

Organize Outlook with F.A.S.T.: Use the F.A.S.T. Workflow Decision Making Process to quickly decide what the next action is. With the F.A.S.T. process, you have four choices:

  • File: File emails in your reference folders that have no action. Drag and drop emails into the appropriate reference folder. A word of caution, at some point you will need to clean out these folders or move them to your archive folder.
  • Act: These are emails that require action by you.
  • Schedule: Get your appointments into your calendar and save as an ALL DAY EVENT or at a SPECIFIC TIME. If you are keeping the email to refer to during the appointment, simply drag the email to your calendar and all the info will be saved in the appointment; then delete the original email.
  • Toss: Read and delete whenever possible. Be ruthless with the delete key. You can set up your deleted Folder to delete emails manually by you, monthly or whatever time frame you prefer.

If your inbox is overflowing with emails and organizing Microsoft Outlook seems like a daunting project, here is a fast way to get your Inbox close to ground zero immediately. Create an Action folder “.OLD EMAILS”. Next, drag emails that are older than 7 days into the new .OLD EMAILS folder. Schedule time to process your old email folder. This strategy gives you instant relief since you only have 7 days of emails to process. You’ll be motivated to process the old email folder.
I’m Free
Train people to understand you don’t live in your inbox or with your phone attached to your ear. Just a few more tips:

  • Check email two or three times a day.
  • Close your email program when not using it. (This will help you stay focused and free from distracting incoming email)
  • Turn email notifications off.
  • Create an automated response system in your inbox to let others know when they can expect a response from you. You should also include an alternative method to be reached in the event of an emergency.

I am no longer hostage to my inbox! I hope you take the leap as well; you will love your freedom!
Question: Are you an email hostage? Share your tips with us by leaving us a comment here!
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Ironstone is a learning and development consultancy with business acumen that translates across many industries. Our focus is on practice management strategies in order to enhance and improve both business and personal life. We support professionals who want major and comprehensive improvements that look at all aspects not just an isolated area for change. Ironstone has identified 4 key performance areas known as the Fundamental 4™, which are required to design, develop, and sustain a successful business.

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