Part of my job is supporting customers’ mail files and I see two types of users: those that are in control of their email and those that are not. Those that are in control of their email rarely call me with email issues because they don’t have any. Email is a tool that they control. Those not in control have overflowing inboxes and and cannot be counted on to consistently reply to messages, usually because they never saw them or can’t find your message so they can respond. For those people, they are a slave to their inbox and its a never ending supply of incoming messages.
First, empty your inbox. Move them to a folder, delete them, do whatever you need to do to start fresh. Be realistic, you aren’t going to sort through them all and catch up. If you could catch up, you would have done so by now. If deleting everything is making you nervous, at least go through and delete all the junk mail and emails you don’t need to keep and archive the rest. Sort by sender or date to remove multiple messages at once. The goal is to start with a clean slate.
The first rule of email is to Touch It Once. The Touch It Once rule states that once you’ve read a message you must respond, move to a folder, or delete it after you’ve read the message. We waste so much time reading emails and then doing nothing with them and then we have to come back to the message, reread it again and then decide to take some sort of action. And while we are in the doing nothing stage, more email is coming in every hour and now we’ve added more messages into this vicious cycle.
This rule can be a tough to follow all the time. I admit there are times when I break my own rules and I advise you to do the same for messages that may require more thought to compose a response or if I need more information before I can respond. And never follow this rule for emotionally charged or confrontational situations. Pick up the phone or speak to the person face-to-face to resolve the issue because you can’t convey tone in an email.
But the majority of the email that comes in can be acted upon as soon as you read it. Read it and then respond, move it to a folder, or delete it. You will not go back and deal with all of your email later. Trust me, you won’t.
Read it and then act on it. Take control of your email. Make your email work for you instead of you being worked by your email.
Coming up next: The Second Rule of Email: Check It Less
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