Email the instant communication highway can be a communication nightmare, and this time management tip will help you to deal with the email mania. Many of you receive literally hundreds of emails in your inbox each and every day. Some are important and need immediate action, some need action at a later date, some require action from someone else, some you need to keep for reference, and many are just a nuisance. So how do you efficiently handle this onslaught of information?

It depends on how important the information is, how transportable you need the information to be, and whether or not you have IT support to bail you out when everything goes to heck. In this time management tip I want to focus on what to do when you’re the only one who can help you when everything goes to heck, and by that I mean when your hard drive crashes and you have to figure out how to get your saved data onto a new computer. When that happens, you want everything you need to be as transportable as possible. If that’s the case and you don’t use an online full backup and restoration service you have to be prepared to deal with this yourself, and without those types of services transferring your email can be an added headache.

Designate specific times throughout the day when you will tackle your email. One of the worst things you can do is allow yourself to become a slave to your email by viewing and responding to each email as it comes in. Prepare a system to deal with your email. If you’re confident that when your system fails you can fully restore your email from the email provided through your operating system create folders within the email system, otherwise you’ll want to create folders as regular document files that you know you can easily back-up and restore. You only need three basic folders. Create folders labeled: action, pending action, and reference. At the designated times or at times when you unexpectedly have a free 15 minutes go to your inbox and do a quick sort. Sort your messages into their proper folders, delete them, or take the needed action. If you can take the needed action in a minute or two do it so you can forget about it.

Determining where to save the message. As you’re sorting and responding to the messages you can take care of quickly you either delete those messages from your inbox, or you save them to one of your other folders. Ideally you never want more than a page full of emails in your inbox at one time. As your sorting you decide where the message gets filed by the next action you need to take. So if you need to act on this message soon, but you can’t do it in just a couple minutes the message goes in your action folder. When you have the time to work on the things in your action folder you know exactly where to go, and as you take the action delete the item or move it to a proper folder. You will have messages that require waiting on someone or something else before you can take your next action, and those messages go in your pending folder. It’s a good idea to include the date you expect to get what you’re waiting for in the file name as you save the message. That way you can track where the things you’re waiting on are. There are messages you need to save for later because they contain important information and these get stored in your reference folders. In the case of reference folders, if you want to store the information long term you may be storing it in a folder with a person’s name, a project name, or a topic.

The reason you don’t want to leave hundreds or thousands of messages in your inbox is that you have to make the same decisions over and over again each time you view your inbox list. That’s a bunch of unnecessary work. Plus when you want to find a message again you have to try to remember how you might search for that message. Most people have multiple email addresses so which one did they use when they sent the message that you’re looking for? Did the message you’re searching for have a good searchable subject line, or is it lost in a whole reply stream and you aren’t exactly sure which of the 25 messages has what you’re looking for? As you properly take care of your messages as they come in you save a lot of time because you know the next actions, you know what’s pending, and you know how to quickly access the information you want when you need it. Plus now that you’ve saved them as regular documents you don’t necessarily have to be online to view them and get the information you need.

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