Don’t blame email for making you feel overwhelmed! Instead of seeing it as the enemy, you should view email as a tool to make your life easier. Impossible, you say. According to professional organizer and computer guru Susan Kousek of Balanced Spaces in Reston, Va., it can be done—you just need to change your mindset and a few of the rules you follow (or don’t) when dealing with the influx of email. “People need to understand that it’s a tool they can use, instead of extra work. Because it’s an instant communication tool, they think they have to respond instantly,” says Kousek. “That’s not the case.“
To tame the beast that is your email in-box, use Kousek’s easy-to-follow rules. And don’t forget to check out her 30+ tips for über email organization.
1. Stay on a schedule. “Reading email on a schedule is something my clients have said has really made a difference,” says Kousek. That means not jumping on the email as soon as the little box shows up in the corner of your computer screen. Many times you read it and don’t respond, only to find yourself opening it later to answer it, wasting time. Instead of breaking your focus throughout the day with multiple email checks, Kousek recommends choosing times of the day when you can concentrate on your email as a specific task. That may be midmorning, midday and midafternoon.
2. Flag it for follow-up. When you do sit down to tackle your email, Kousek suggests you reply to what you can right away as you are reading it. If you are not going to handle it immediately, flag it for follow-up. (Yes, that’s what that little flag on your toolbar is for.) If you are using Microsoft Outlook 2002 and earlier, you need to leave the flagged email in your in-box if you want a reminder. If you have a newer version, you can move the flagged email to an appropriate folder.
|•Opening an email when it comes in and then closing it to deal with it later.|
•Not moving emails into folders.
•Keeping everything—people have a hesitancy to delete.
3. Don’t use your in-box as a dumping ground. “Your in-box is not designed to hold all your messages—just those you have not read and those you need to take care of,” says Kousek. Have only those messages you need to take action on living in your in-box; those that you’re finished with need to be moved to other folders. (See the next tip!) Keeping your in-box pared down can also give you a psychological boost. You are neither daunted by an endless list of emails, nor are you worried you have left an important email unanswered.
4. Create folders for emails you need to keep. Just as you do with paper files, you need to create folders that will help you stay organized. Most people don’t use folders because they can’t figure out how to label them, says Kousek. It needn’t stay a mystery. Use the same system you do with filing papers: “Ask why you are keeping it and create a folder for that,” she says. Is it for a meeting? A trip? A project? Then create a folder for that. If it’s for reference, create a folder for the subject matter.