Automatically Sorting Your Email
Everyone's requirements are different, so I'll stop short of recommending a particular email client. However, one thing is clear. While many free and web-based email clients work well for personal use, most are sub-par for professionals seeking to maximize productivity.
While my suggestions are based upon the use of Microsoft Outlook 2007 or 2010, the concepts will mostly apply to other professional email clients as well.
Email Client Requirements:
- Be able to process multiple email addresses or accounts in a single place.
- Allows you too apply rules to incoming and outgoing email
Make Your Email Client Do the Work
Sorting incoming email by person is too cumbersome to be practical. Instead use a system that automatically sorts email by address or account. The key is to create a separate address or account for each group you've identified.
- Use a separate email address or account for each group on the list you created during Part I of this series. Make each easy to remember given its purpose. For example, email@example.com can be the account that you use for the obvious purpose - online shopping.
- Create a folder for each group.
- Create a rule to associate and direct all incoming email to the appropriate folder
- Add folders that'll be receiving high and medium priority content to "Favorite Folders"
With your system in place, the key that makes everything work is simple. Give out the appropriate address so that each incoming email will be automatically moved to the correct folder.
Using Rules for Specific Cases - a Cautionary Note
Using rules as suggested, to direct specific email accounts into corresponding folders, creates a low maintenance system. Use other types of rules sparingly. Rules based on criteria such as a sender name or specific words in the email title become unwieldy. Over time they multiply rapidly and grow into a maintenance nightmare.
As an example, think of the online vendors from whom you make purchases. You could create a rule for each new vendor, directing all vendor emails to a vendor folder. Over a period of years, you'll end up creating and maintaining dozens or possibly hundreds of rules.
With the proposed system, you'll only create one rule. It'll apply to all vendors to whom you provide the specific address.
Specific case rules can be useful, but only use them after careful deliberation. Make them a secondary, not a primary choice.
Gaining Even More Efficiency
The "One Touch Rule"
When dealing with physical paperwork, many productivity experts advocate the "One Touch Rule". To the degree possible, the same concept should be applied to email.
The idea is that you should only touch the email once. If it's at all possible respond to the email as soon as you read it. While it's sometimes unavoidable, setting it aside to read later leaves you with one more task to track and an email to reread.
Reduce the Number of Emails You Process
Discourage the use of CC
In theory, CC is a useful tool for keeping everyone in the loop. In practice, it often does more harm than good.
Many people complain of a colleague who over-communicates via CC. Others find that CC supports office politics or is used by over-controlling, "have to have their hands in everything" bosses.
If more than one or two pieces of SPAM are making it to your inbox daily, ask your technical friends or contact a PC support professional for help in managing it.
Reduce the number of emails you send
Do you really need to send that email? The ease with which we can communicate can sometimes lead to too much communication.
Is the time you take to write the email and the ensuing back and forth really worth it? While the majority of the time the answer is "yes, it is worth the time", be vigilant. Watch for those times when the answer is "no". An email not sent is one or more emails that you and the recipient don't have to process.
Everyone's different. Continue to look for ideas that work for you. Your system should always be a work-in-progress and evolve over time.