Show Me Your Inbox and I'll Show You Mine

by Lori Krolik
What’s your Inbox number
? Are you a 25, perhaps you are a 125, or maybe you are even over 300.  You know what I am talking about. It’s all those e-mails you are saving, because “someday” you might need them. Well, if you really did need something in those e-mails, could you easily find it? Or do you even remember why you saved it in the first place?

Reasons for saving e-mails vary from thinking we’ll need phone numbers or addresses embedded in them, lack of certainty on how to respond, not having enough time to respond, or just wanting to keep information we find interesting or useful. Of course, keeping this information in your inbox for a lack of a better place to put it is not the best solution. Just because your inbox can hold hundreds of e-mails doesn’t mean it should. Would you ever just randomly place a piece of paper in your file drawer just because you did not know where else to put it?

When we receive e-mail there is generally some kind of decision that has to be made as to what to do about it. David Allen, in his book Getting Things Done, outlines a great system for processing e-mails. What follows is an adapted version of his recommendations. Start by asking: “Does this require an action?” If the answer is “no”, then go ahead and delete it. If the thought of permanently losing something rocks your world, then you can take the more cautious route of putting it in your archive folder. Just remember, that every email you read, re-read, and read again is sucks up time and energy -- time that could be spent doing something more productive, and energy that as a working mom you probably have in short supply. So go ahead, learn to love your delete key.

If an e-mail does require an action, you have a limited number of decisions to make:

 • Respond to it immediately. If you can respond to an e-mail in less than two minutes, then go ahead and respond. Then delete the original e-mail, or file it in one of your other folders mentioned below.

• Defer it for later response. Create a “Defer” folder for e-mail responses that require some thought and planning and will take longer than two minutes to answer.

• Generate an action from it. Create an “Action” folder and add these e-mails to your Outlook Task List or whatever “To-Do List” system you use. • Archive it. Use the “Archive” folder for all the e-mails you just can’t bear to delete.

• Wait for more information. One additional folder that will help you in this process is called the “Waiting” folder. Use this folder for e-mails that require something from someone else before you can respond or take action.

Implementing this process may take you a while, especially if you are a “300 or above.” However, once you start you just need to spend 5 to 10 minutes every couple of hours to process your Inbox. Don’t try to process every e-mail as it comes in. If you do it in larger chunks, you can spend the rest of the time getting your real work done and not being a slave to your Inbox.