By: Daniel C. Finley

Creating an Effective Email System

Have you noticed that you get more emails now then you ever did before?  After constantly being interrupted by emails you most likely have become conditioned to feeling obligated to view each email the minute it arrives.

David Allen, the author of the book Getting Things Done writes, “There are no interruptions, only mismanaged inputs.”

In many respects, this is very true­, in that the emails that you receive all day are merely as important as you perceive them to be and the way that you react to them can either be a positive or a negative depending on what type of time management boundaries you establish.

The following steps will help you create an effective email system:

Step 1: Log Out of Your Email

I know that it might sound a bit counter-productive to log out of your email in order to manage them better but it’s the first step on how to effectively manage interruptions because you are choosing when people have access to you.

An example of this would be from Dave G., a thirty-year veteran branch manager financial advisor client who was a slave to his emails. I recommended that he take the first step and log off from email. He was instantly resistant until I explained that he could set an automatic reply message that informs people that he checks his email only a few times per day.

Step 2: Time Block Email Review

The next step is to know when to log into your email and review your inbox. My clients use a tool called The Bottom Line List which is a simple tool that blocks off five daily activities each of which are for forty-five minutes. In between those activities is a fifteen minute buffer that I suggest using in part to check emails.

Since Dave had already been using The Bottom Line List he knew that his “buffer time” would be a perfect opportunity to review his emails. However, what he didn’t know was that I didn’t want him to respond to any emails right away. Instead, I wanted him to do something first.

Step 3: Flag or Tag Emails

Once you begin reviewing emails it’s important to not get trapped in the same reactive mindset that you have had but rather take time to organize emails by flagging or tagging them. Most email contact management systems have some type of color coding process to flag emails such as green, yellow and red flags. By matching a color to the time such as green equals today, yellow this week and red whenever you have ample time, you are constantly keeping in control by prioritizing your inbox.

Dave started the process but found it difficult at first to understand why he couldn’t just respond right away while he was reviewing the emails.

Step 4: Time Block Email Activities

If you have been using “buffer time” to log onto your email account, review and flag your emails then you will more easily be able to start responding when the time is right. For those flagged/tagged with green/today, the best times are before lunch and again before you leave the office for the day. That way you become consistent with cleaning up your inbox on a systematic basis.

It didn’t take long before Dave looked forward to responding to his “green” flagged emails and he felt more in control of his time.

Why Having an Effective Email System Works

The reason why having an effective email system works is because you can get more done in less time, with less stress since you are now in control of your interruptions instead of your interruptions being in control of you!

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