How often do you open up to a scary e-mail inbox? If you’re like most executives, one mistaken belief is perpetuating a daily menacing e-mail situation. And it’s not what you think. If you believe you need to “organize” your e-mails to regain control, you’re wrong. The practice of being organized in the inbox leaves you disorganized more times than not. Here’s how to quell that chain-shaking desire for organization and how to dominate through disorder.
Flawed Principle: Hyper Organization
When you’re bombarded with hundreds of e-mails a day, you know something must be done to maintain order. So you are drawn toward methods that give order to so many other areas of your life. Clothes categorized by body part saves time. Forks separated from knives makes setting the table faster. Papers filed by project are easier to locate. So creating an elaborate folder system to store reference e-mails must be the answer. Right? Wrong!
Imagine if Google were to “organize” information. Say you’re vacationing and you want to find a well-rated sandwich shop that will deliver to the beach. Do you look in the Sandwich Shop folder under the town name? Or in the Delivers folder under restaurants? Or maybe in the 2012 Top-Rated Restaurants folder? (Is this quandary familiar?)
Since the volume of e-mail is high, the nature of e-mail communication allows for multiple topics to be covered in one message, and because digital search has become so powerful, organization is not the answer. Search is.
Solution: Hypo Organization
Instead of using paper files and folders as your archetype, model Google. Opt for far less order and then use keyword searches and sort to retrieve items when you need them. If you’re a PC and don’t have the advantage of Spotlight, consider investing in an add-in desktop search tool like X1 or Copernic to enable split-second e-mail and document searches across your computer.
By the way, many already use hypo organization in the sent folder and inbox because of being so far behind on filing. These steps will help remove the guilt and introduce relief in seeing only new and task-begging e-mails without the clutter of useless ones.
Step 1: Practice Search
So that you can get comfortable enough to implement step three, practice search. Test yourself for up to a week to see if you can find things without referring to your folder system. Study the advanced search features and customize your sort options to yield more accurate results.
Step 2: Establish a Single Reference Point
Now that you’re secure in finding things, create a general reference folder. This is where you’re going to dump everything that no longer requires action, but may need to be referenced some day. Common names include Reference Bucket, General Reference, Reference, Dump Bucket. If you’re feeling brave, consider the Delete folder or Archive in Gmail your single reference point. This eliminates the need to file, as hitting the delete or archive key automatically removes it from the inbox and files it for you.
Step 3: Move Inbox Items Into Reference Point
Select everything in your inbox three weeks or older & move them all to your single reference point. Feel free to adjust the timing to two weeks, but don’t adjust in the other direction. Do not organize those e-mails by filing them into your folder system! It’s not worth your time. You’re currently getting along without that organization living out of your inbox, so why apply the organization when you know you can live without it?
Go through the remaining e-mails, filing items not requiring action into the reference point and leaving all those requiring action in your inbox.
Step 4: Sunset Old Folder System
The last step is to close down your old folder system. If having some e-mails organized and others not bothers you, then take the longer road of selecting all from each folder and moving into the single reference point. If this level of detail doesn’t matter to you, nest the folders under the single reference folder and then fold them up so you no longer see them. If you identify a folder or two that seems more reliable than search or sort, you’re allowed this exception (like Google’s Images/Maps/Videos filters) provided they don’t rule.
Now nothing is preventing you from fearlessness as you enter your e-mail inbox. Except maybe those frightening requests and ominous responses.