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Cutting the Clutter in My Inbox – Delete, Do, Delegate, Defer

February 7, 2012

January 2012 was the 8th annual NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) Get Organized (GO) month. Getting and staying organized takes deliberate practice for me. I find that when I am keeping up with the amount of information that comes my way, I’m feeling pretty good. When I don’t, I feel the stress of thinking about what I might have missed.

One of my favorite get organized gurus is David Allen, the author of “Getting Things Done.®” I follow his tips and teachings at One of the areas where his techniques have made a difference for me, is in keeping up with a deluge of emails that somehow find their way to my Outlook mailbox.

On average, I receive about 1,500 email messages a week. Although I keep Outlook open most of the day, I don’t typically read my messages as they come in. My focus is often on the meeting I am in, the person I am talking with or the task at hand. I delay reading my mail until I can focus just on that task. Then I move as quickly as I can to work though the messages. I act on every email in one of the follow ways:

Delete – I love to delete emails. Many of the messages I get are informational – ones in which I am CC’d. A quick scan of the message, <Ctrl>+D and it’s gone. About once a week, I sort my inbox by conversation and delete groups of messages at a time.

Do – when action is required and I can complete the action in under 2 minutes – I get it done. That could mean that I need to reply to the email or it could mean that I need to file the email.  For me filing happens in one of two places, Outlook folders or FileSite project related folders.

Delegate – when I need someone else to take action on the email, I’ll forward the email on to them, or I’ll reply to the email asking someone to take action. I track this by adding myself as a bcc: and then filing that message in my “Waiting For” Outlook folder.  I check this folder twice during the week to follow up on those things for which I am waiting for answers.

Defer – when the time required to act on the message will take over 2 minutes, I schedule the time to do the work on my calendar. I will often either drag and drop the entire email to the calendar or cut and paste the text of the message into the calendar. If I keep the email, I will flag or file it so that I can easily find it and reply back when the work is complete.

These simple techniques make the work of processing a day’s worth of email messages a much easier task and will help me achieve my organizational goal for 2012 of  keeping my inbox clean. Wish me luck!

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