Taming the email beast

I love organization, I’m just not very good at it. But I do notice a nice uptick in productivity when I don’t have to forage for my own files.

Starting with email.

I use Apple Mail, which has a nice search function, as do most programs, but you have to remember what the email was about or who it was from or which account it was in before you can do an effective search. So I also use folders. I have folders for every client, plus one that’s kind of a catch-all (agency business, coworker emails, etc.).

But folders are only good if you use them. So start yourself on some new work habits and find out how spending a little time can save a lot of time.

Check your email at regular intervals. This means quitting out of your email program at regular intervals too, or at least setting it so you aren’t notified.

A schedule that works for me is: Check email first thing in the morning. Check it again in the late morning (11 a.m. or so). Check it again in the early afternoon (1:30 p.m. or so) and set aside an hour at the end of the day for the final check, replies and filing. The end-of-the-day check works for me because my brain is weary then from all the highly focused work I’ve been doing earlier. Reading through emails feels like my reward.

You can also set up folders for “Waiting,” “Needs reply” or “Action,” but I prefer to deal with things as soon as I can whenever possible. However, see my inbox strategy, below.

This also assumes that you don’t get any “this has to be done this minute” emails. You may need to explain to your coworkers and contacts that you only check email at certain times of the day. If they have one of those “this-minute” messages, they might be better off texting or instant messaging you. As usual, use your own judgment.

The end of the day also helps me deal with the emails that didn’t pass the Two-Minute Rule. David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done,” suggests that if you can deal with an email in two minutes or less, just do it. Answer the question, give the opinion, forward the information. Then delete the email. You don’t need the clutter in your inbox.

Speaking of inboxes, what’s in yours? Mine has only emails that need more from me than a simple reply. They might have pertinent instructions for something I’m going to work on tomorrow or a link to an article I want to read. I always strive for an empty inbox, because I think of it as my “to-do list.” Hasn’t been emptied yet, but I can dream.