Over the last few years, I’ve been leading time & e-mail management sessions at major conferences, corporations, and universities in the United States and abroad, and over that time I’ve had the opportunity to take a good close look at the key issues people are having with their e-mail effectiveness. Perhaps one of the biggest problems (areas of opportunity?) that I see is how people are handling individual e-mails, causing their e-mail inboxes to “stack up” and then become unwieldy. This is one of the most common issues people are having with their e-mail, but thankfully, there is a very simple solution to this problem – make a DECISION.

Most people receive new e-mails, and then promptly (sometime TOO promptly) review the contents of the message. But here is where they fall down and cause their e-mails to pile up – rather than deciding what they are going to do with the message, they 1) open the e-mail, 2) read the e-mail, and 3) start to formulate a thought on what to DO with the e-mail, but then they short-circuit this process in mid-stream of the actual decision as their brain says, “Too busy for this right now – do it later.” And then, after being ¾ of the way through the decision-making process on this new input, they sabotage the process to “save it for later”, and thus repeat steps 1-3 over and over again (thus often tripling or quadrupling the time necessary to DEAL with the e-mail).

The solution to this problem is quite simple and obvious: if you are going to allow yourself to READ an e-mail, you simultaneously have to promise yourself to DECIDE what you will DO with that e-mail. Notice that I did not necessarily say “do the task in the e-mail” – I simply said “decide what to do with the e-mail”. In essence, I want you to finish your decision-making process with each and every e-mail you receive the FIRST TIME you read it.

In my new book, Taming the E-mail Beast, and in my related training programs, I basically follow a diagnostic method with these e-mails dependent on how long the imbedded task within the e-mail will take. Here’s how this goes: if I read an e-mail and it has something that can be done very quickly (say 3 minutes or less), I just do it now! I don’t want those quick little messages to stack up on me – I want to reply, forward, respond, file and/or delete right away, and get those messages out of my inbox. If the e-mail contains one or more tasks that will take longer than three minutes, then I will typically identify the task that needs to be done, and add it to my task list (in MS Outlook, you can actually drag an e-mail to your Task icon, and “drop it” to easily create a new task), followed by filing or deleting the original e-mail. Notice at this point that I have converted the e-mail into the action item that needs to be done, rather than keeping it in my inbox to go through the decision process all over again. Note also that I will get to that task in appropriate priority order, thus meaning I might not get to low priority tasks for a while (if ever!)

By following this decision-making routine with my new e-mails, I keep my e-mail inbox very clean and efficient, and I’m also very good at turning around “quick little things” while effectively prioritizing the “big stuff”. Try following this strategy for a while and see if you too can better manage your e-mail insanity!

Author's Bio: 

Randall “Randy” Dean, MBA, is the author of the new national productivity sensation and Amazon.com #1 E-mail Best Seller, Taming the E-mail Beast (Sortis Publishing, 2009 – learn more at TamingEmailBook.com). He is a popular conference and corporate speaker and trainer on the topics of e-mail management, time management, and the related use of technology. You can learn more about Randy by visiting his web sites: EmailSanityExpert.com and RandallDean.com.