Well after a long holiday weekend and a few days off, I returned to work to find about 20 pages, not kidding, of emails. At 20 mails per page, that’s 400 to sift through. Read these tips and be rewarded with Devastatin’ Dave’s hot rap at the end. Or just skip down.
So how do you sift out the junk and garbage and have a productive day? One method is the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu method from the good folks at Web Worker Daily. But I prefer the following 5 step plan. Think of it like the D.E.N.N.I.S. method, but kinder and gentler.
1) Pre-Block & Pre-Label
One of my work tasks is as an admin for a helpdesk, so before vacation I shut off notifications that were redundant/obsolete for me to receive unless I’m “live” at my desk. Email savings: Pre-filtered 400 emails, no kidding. I did forget to unsubscribe from one mailing list that sends me filtered news so that added another 20 mails back.
My work email client allows me to color code certain senders, so my boss comes in with a screaming red banner. I found his 2 critical emails right away when I got in. Also, any delayed/automated messages that I send to myself are coded blue so I could see my own items. Now that this work was laid out before vacation, I can get to the gritty.
2) Shovel buddy
Some people say not to let your inbox be your workflow or to-do list, and I tend to agree. So first things first is scanning for inbox items that someone else has to deal with. I look for the infamous “Fwd: Re: …” in the headline and sort out any stuff that I can pass off to someone else. Their headache, not mine. Emails filtered: 50 in under 5 minutes.
Ah clients. You may wonder how they end up so low, but again, this is partly because I am preprioritizing before even reading the client work. My work server again helps in that I can add “stars” or “flags” or “pieces of flair” to any important mail, so I scan the client emails (in our email, these are in mixed case addresses while internal emails are in all capitals) to see what is ready to shovel off to someone else or needs further research. If you can’t get the gist in 5 seconds, it’s something to do later. I’m not “doing” any of the email work, just reading and sorting, shoveling, or deleting. About 100 emails, under 10 minutes.
I saw a few emails in a row that were part of some conversation in which I was tagged/cc’d, so I took a look. They all had a specific word in the emails, so I did an inbox search for the word (say, “Favre”) and found 20 emails all pertaining to this conversation. Luckily, everyone had attached the body of the prior email to their reply so I only had to read the last one. Read it, saw the issue was resolved, and deleted 20 emails (another full inbox page) in under 30 seconds. There were 4 of these events, so it took about 4 minutes to do 80 emails.
At this point, I’ve done 230 emails in under 20 minutes. Not too bad for coming back from vacation.
Now what’s left is what looks more like work. So I scanned the remaining headlines and saw many notices that were from autonotifications. Again, using a common word, I was able to search and find clusters of related emails to farm out or flag for later, or just delete. This helped organize another 100 emails, but took about 15 minutes.
After all of this, I’ve done about 330 emails in about 35 minutes. That’s a pretty powerful start to the day. So the next 70 or so I had to keep filtering, checking, reading etc. as normal work so it took me a while, but many of these were part of the regular day. In the past, when I had less emails and responsibilities, it would take me an entire day after returning from a week off to get through my inbox. Not a good use of my time.
Now if you are not working with a lovely internally supported and built email system like my office has, fear not. You can use Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc. and do almost all of these tasks. Don’t be afraid to create temporary email folders for the sake of sorting. I find making a “things to do” folder is sometimes the simplest, and I’ll just chuck emails that need more work and time into there, and delete when I’m done. And if you’re organized enough, you can make a “things to do when I get back” folder PRIOR to vacation so you don’t lose current items under the mountain.
ZIP ZAP THAT INBOX! TAKE IT FROM DEVASATIN DAVE!