Challenge #2: Process email for a maximum of 30 minutes
In yesterday’s challenge, we helped you set up your archive folder* and archive your emails . Your archive folder is the (searchable) place you store your email messages once you are done processing them.
What is processing?
The word processing is a bit mechanical. I get the image of a factory assembly line when I hear the word.
I don’t think the word is too far off the mark.
Processing your inbox is often a mechanical job. You are there to route information to the right places like an intelligent (we hope) sorting machine.
This type of work is often of lower value to you and your organization. Your time is better spent on creative problem-solving tasks (or resting or recreating or reflecting or reading or in your relationships or pretty much anything else… even things that don’t start with the letter r).
The word processing is Getting Things Done speak for determining what needs to be done with the information. If the information is actionable, the action will be either:
If the information is not actionable, you’ll either:
- trash it
- incubate it
- store it in your reference folder
Today, we’re going to show you how to process your emails efficiently so you can start filling your archive folder with those “done” messages and get closer to inbox zero.
One of the things that can make processing your inbox tough is not knowing where to put everything. What you do with an email is determined by its content.
Where to sort your email.
Here are the five most common places for your processed emails:
- Quick reply – if the email needs a response and you can do it quickly (less than 2-minutes), go ahead and reply. Once you’re done, archive the message and do a happy dance – you’re one step closer to inbox zero!
- Put it on your to-do list – sometimes you’ll get an email that creates more work for you (i.e. an email from your boss asking you do something). When this happens, you don’t want to completely stop what you’re doing but you also don’t want to forget about it either. The best thing to do in this case is to write it down on your to-do list (i.e. “Follow up with Thanh to figure out the podcast schedule for next month”). You can use a digital task manager like OmniFocus, but even a paper to-do list will work.
- Put it on your calendar – if the email is an invitation to be at a particular place at a particular time it should go on your calendar. It’s also a good idea to pull out any useful information that will allow you to be fully prepared for the meeting or event. This can be done by putting notes in the description field or adding an attachment to the event.
- Store it for later – if the email contains information you want to hang on to (i.e. login account credentials, attachments you want to save, etc.) then you should put it in a reference folder. The best digital reference folder we’ve found is Evernote because it’s free and allows you to search and find things quickly and easily, but you could also print things off and store them in a filing cabinet if you’re old school.
- Trash it – a lot of the email we receive belongs here. If you receive an email that doesn’t elicit one of the previous three responses, you probably don’t need it and you can delete it.
Even if you have hundreds of unread messages in your inbox, it’s important that you start small. As your Day 2 Challenge, process your inbox for 30-minutes.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Set a timer. The goal is to get in the habit of quickly identifying and deciding what to do with the emails still left in your inbox.
Once you get into the rhythm, you’ll start to know where all your emails should go in seconds. This processing skill is the key to Escaping Your Inbox.
Let us know in the comments how it went!
More Email Tips
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*If you are a Gmail user, this archive folder is built in.
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