Automate email management so you have time for more meaningful tasks

Who doesn’t want to be more productive? When the end of your day rolls around, are you looking at your to-do list wishing you could cross off more items? In my experience, I’ve discovered the most productive people do things differently. They use their time more efficiently and often achieve better results.

If you’re struggling to find time for the more meaningful tasks in your day, and want to spend less time tied to emails, I’m sharing these tips for you.

I recently read Getting Things Done, and if you’re into personal productivity, it is a must read. The author, David Allen, is widely recognized as the world’s leading expert on personal and organizational productivity.

The book inspired me to create an email system that lets me spend less time on emails and more time on meaningful tasks. Here are my tips around email and how to make it work for you. In order to succeed at making the most of your email you’re going to need two things:

  1. An email program (I use Outlook, so that is what I’ll be highlighting today)
  2. Time (Don’t worry, it won’t take much of your time once you get the system established!)

So, without further ado, here’s how I set up my email to maximize my time:

Create a reliable archive for everything you send and receive. Create a folder called “Received” to archive every email you receive, so that you always have a copy on hand, no matter what happens. Create a rule to automatically make a copy of everything you receive, except emails that you send to yourself or copy yourself on (I’ll explain that in a minute).

Additional tip: There’s no need to create a similar archive for things you send, as it takes care of this for you via the Sent folder.

At this point, a copy of every email you send will be in Sent and a copy of every email you receive will be in Received. You’ll never have to worry about deleting an email again. Just follow one rule – don’t touch either of these folders, and you’ll always have a copy saved.

This provides a few benefits:

  1. You can now use your Inbox as a real inbox, and not as a way of archiving your emails. For example, you can now delete things from your Inbox without worrying about saving a copy.
  2. You don’t have to create some complicated folder structure to store and find emails. You can simply use Search across both the Sent and Received folders to search and find any email you’ve ever sent or received. More on this later.

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Next, in order to get all the useless emails out of my Inbox and focus on the important stuff, I use a service called Sanebox Sanebox does many things for me, but the best thing it does is learn what I consider important and interesting and move everything else out of my Inbox into a folder called SaneLater. This means that the stuff left in my Inbox are things I find most important, and the rest I can process periodically at the end of the day.

So, at this point, your Inbox will only contain emails of interest. Now onto processing those emails. For every email remaining I will take one of the following actions:

  1. Read and delete. No further action needed.
  2. Do. If I think it will take me less than 2 minutes to respond to an email, I will do it then and there and then delete.
  3. Delegate. Forward and ask someone to do something based on the email, and then delete.
  4. Queue up. These are the emails I need to spend more time on, and that I haven’t been able to delete, delegate or do within the 2 minute rule mentioned above.

The really fun part (have I mentioned how much I love productivity tips?) is how to set up email to streamline how you manage all the things you’ve delegated and all the next actions you have on your plate.

Let’s start with how I use email to track everything I’ve delegated and everything I’m waiting for:

  1. Create a folder called “Pending” to store every email request you make that you want to track the result of or monitor that it gets done.
  2. Create a rule that automatically moves any email you receive from yourself to the Pending folder created in the previous step.

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Now all you need to do is to copy yourself on any email you send where you want to track or monitor that something gets done.

You can then periodically (daily, weekly, whenever) look at the Pending folder for every ‘waiting for’ action you are tracking.  When something gets done, simply delete it from the Pending folder!  Remember, no need to worry about saving emails anymore, every email you have ever sent and received is safely archived in Sent and Received.

And voila! You now have:

  • A way to archive all your email so you never have to worry about deleting an email again
  • A way to unclutter your Inbox
  • A way to process your Inbox
  • A way to track everything you delegate and everything you are ‘waiting for’

Keeping track of all your to-do’s is never an easy task, but it’s within your power to foster a process and system that helps you function at your optimal capacity.

This is what works for me – what works for you? What are your productivity tips when it comes to managing your to-do list?

And stay tuned for the next blog post on how to manage and track all your next actions, so you never have to worry about dropping the ball again.

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