How to Keep Your Inbox from Dragging You Down.

You know the feeling.
You’ve been on vacation.
Maybe a four day weekend.
The reckoning is coming.
You open your inbox to some 200 plus emails.
Some unopened.
Time to sloth through for 2 plus hours to reorg the whole mess.
Ugh.
Nothing but a time drain.
Lucky for you, I just taught an awesome class developed by Franklin Covey called the 5 Choices of Extraordinary Productivity and I have the master moves to save your inbox.

Get Control of your Inbox

Here they are:

1. Have folders that make sense. It’s really simple to add folders but frequently they don’t make sense or your folders need to be updated. This happened to me recently. I had a folder in my personal inbox named “Duke” while my daughter was attending the university and I kept track of various school and financial aid information. She graduated two years ago. I am working for Duke as an instructor starting in September. Now the “Duke” folder is housing different information. As Andrew Mellen espouses in his book, Unstuff Your LIfe, you need to have categories that work for you. I used to have folders for each blog I subscribe to. Now I have a main folder called “Blogs” and subfolders with each author’s name. I also update my folders periodically so that now the “Duke” folder is not a subfolder under “Kids” but is now a subfolder under “Current Clients”. Make sure you organize it in a way that makes sense for you and update it as appropriate.

2. Set up rules so you don’t have to open unnecessary emails. Frankin Covey calls this “Win without Fighting”, so essentially you never even see an email and, therefore, never have to fight it. Low hanging fruit here is to have junk mail automatically go to the junk mail or delete folder. I’ve read in several places that it’s not wise to unsubscribe to emails because they frequently create more emails by confirming your email address (obviously these are disreputable spammers). So if you have them go automatically to the delete folder you don’t need to bother to unsubscribe. Shopping receipts can go to the “Purchases” folder automatically if you set up rules from your most frequented online shopping sites like Amazon, Staples, Southwest and the like. What I really like about doing this is that my cell phone inbox doesn’t blow up with emails I want a record of but don’t necessarily want to look at on my phone. It cuts back on the alerts.

3. Turn it into what it is. During the class, as we all sat at our laptops connected to our Outlook inbox, we could turn all those incoming emails into what they actually were. So when I get an invite for a meeting or conference, I can drag the email down to the “Calendar” and create an appointment to decide whether to attend on the last day of early registration. I can drag an email requesting data on turnover to the “Task” list and set up a due date on the first day of the next month. I can drag a new contact email to my “People” icon and set up the contact information. When you do this, you can practically empty your inbox to a handful of emails. Before I started using this method, I invariably had email that sat in my inbox until it was taken care of. So if I couldn’t decide on a conference some six months out, that email would sit there gathering dust and cluttering my head until I could actually sign up for it. Start dragging your incoming email and creating what it really is.

4. Link to Locate. This is the last “Master Move” in the 5 Choices class. Basically, in any calendar entry, you can “insert” an email, a contact, a task or a note. So if you have a meeting with a new client on Friday at 10 AM, you can have the client’s contact information, the proposal you sent them and the notes from the phone call you had with them. They are all sitting there in your calendar entry. In addition, if you copy your associate on the appointment request, they will have access to all the information as well. It’s a nice neat little package. No need to set up an email folder and hope you have all the information in there. Or printing off tons of paper for the meeting. It’s all there in Outlook waiting patiently for the appointed time.

I have to say that even the technology folks in the class didn’t realize all the capabilities of Outlook. Once you start fully utilizing it, it’s remarkable how efficient you can be. Out of 13 participants, every single person had their “mind blown” by how easy it was to organize their technology. My husband brought his laptop home and, after a brief lesson on the 4 items above, he went from over 10,000 emails (all of which were flagged) to ZERO in about two hours.  So there you have it. A nice neat efficient inbox. Whew.

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