When dealing with email, my goal is to maintain a zero inbox and sent box. My system is pretty simple:
Golden Rule - the Inbox and Sentbox are NOT FOR FILING!
- Every morning I go through my inbox and move all emails into a number of 'outstanding' folders.
- If a received email is for info only it gets filed straightaway and doesn't go into outstanding.
- I then scan through all the emails in each of the outstanding folders.
- Emails in these folders are sorted by subject.
- I check to see whether new emails received are responses to emails I'd sent.
- To do this I look for emails where I'm NOT the sender - I go through the folder in order and don't pick and choose the interesting/easy ones first!
- If an email is a response then I file my original email.
- I then check the response to see what action I need to take and whether I can deal with it quickly or not.
- If I can respond to the email straightaway, I do so, move my reply into .the outstanding folder and file the email I'm responding to.
- If a response email deals with what had been outstanding and requires no further action I file it and the email it's the response to.
- I have a naming convention for all my emails - I deal with 9 different departments at work, so my naming convention is: Department Identifier - Title (Subtitle).
- If a received email is about a new subject, I always rename the email so it follows the naming convention and becomes a more meaningful and memorable subject title to me.
- If I can respond to a new email straightaway, I do so, file the email my response supersedes and move my response from sent to outstanding.
I review my emails frequently during the course of the day, updating my folders using the steps above and also set aside time during the day to deal with emails that need more attention than just a quick reply.
I have my email set up to flash up any new emails received, so I can decide straightaway whether to stop what I'm currently working on and move my attention to email - it may be urgent or may be a response I've been waiting for.
When reviewing emails, anything in the outstanding folders with me as the sender means I'm awaiting someone else's action, anything with someone else as the sender means I have action to take.
If I have a phone or face-to-face conversation about one of the outstanding emails, I always update the email with a "Post Reply to Folder" action (I use Outlook as my mail client), commenting on what's been discussed and then file the email that has now had an update.
If I receive an email that relates to another email, but is not a response to that email, I attach the email to the original and update it with a comment as to what the attachment relates to.
I follow-up emails awaiting a response every couple of days if I've heard nothing.
If I have to send an email about a new subject, I immediately refile it into one of the outstanding folders once its been sent and when I get a reply it goes into the cycle described above.
This system means I should only have current emails awaiting a reply or my action in the outstanding folders and anything that's been superseded is Filed.
So to sum up:
- Regular checks of Inbox.
- Move emails out of Inbox into Outstanding or Filed.
- Move emails out of Sentbox immediately after sending to Outstanding or Filed.
- File emails that have been superseded by a new email or an update.
One final thing to say - it was not easy to achieve this (and I had nowhere near scarey amounts of emails in my Inbox), but now that I have, I find it really easy to maintain, even when receiving hundreds of emails a day. I know it works well when I have problems accessing my File folders (as can sometimes happen when I'm working from home) because that's when utter chaos descends because I can't file anything and everything piles up and gets OUT OF CONTROL!!
My empty inbox/sentbox and I are very good friends!
Sorry this post's all words and no photos - not as jazzy!
How do you deal with email - have you tried Zero Inbox or do you prefer a system of having all your emails in one place and keep EVERYTHING in your inbox??