Controlling Email Chaos!

Control email overload!

How do you do it? How do you get through the chaos of daily social media? With the influence of email, texting, Twitter, and Facebook we are now caught in an avalanche of information. It never seems to stop and it gets grows larger each day. How do we multi-task our way through this madness? How do we prioritize what’s really important and not become a social media zombie that’s on brain-overload and unable to make a decision?

When we are not on top of our workload, especially email, we lose control. Controlling our email chaos is an essential skill to our survival as a leader.

Here’s what I’ve gathered, mostly from others who’ve lived and learned (Michael Hyatt, Chris LoCurto, Seth Godin, Dan Rockwell) about how to change four behaviors to get control of email.

  1. Empty your inbox everyday. This is tough, but it’s got to be a goal. If you are on shift work (24-48), then empty your inbox by the end of every shift. While you need to process every message, you don’t have to answer or act immediately on each one.
  2. Don’t get bogged down, keep moving. The key, like managing an emergency situation, is to make decisions and fast. Keep moving quickly, reading each message once and answering this question: “Is this message actionable?” In other words, “Am I being asked to do something?” If yes, here are the three possible actions you can do:
    1. Do it now. Use David Allen’s Two-Minute Rule. If you can do what is being requested within two minutes, then do it now. If you can answer the question: “What’s the next step?” and it requires a two-minute action just get it done immediately. This keeps your to-do list short, and it makes you look very responsive.
    2. Delegate to someone else to do. Pass the task to someone else who’s better equipped or responsible for it. Delegation is critical to leadership. So it’s important to make it clear what the task is and what authority they have to do it. In other words, is it giving direction, asking for discussion, asking for a recommendation, asking them to make a decision and advise you, or just letting them make the decision? It’s important that you focus on your role and talents and offload everything else that others can do, maybe even better.
    3. Defer it and do it later. Make the decision to do it later. If you can’t do it within two minutes or less or can’t delegate it to someone else, put it on your to-do list ( I call mine JUST DO IT!) or if an appointment, add it immediately to your appointment calendar.

So, what do you do when the email is not actionable (you’re not being asked to do something) or it’s something you’ve already done? Here’s two options:

  1. Delete it. If you don’t need the information for later, get rid of it immediately. If it is really important (memos, SOGs, etc.) you can find it somewhere else.
  2. File it. If you think you might need it later, then file it away. But here’s where it gets interesting. You have to be careful not to create an elaborate set of file folders. I did this and found myself spending more time looking for things. Put it in a folder called “Processed Mail.” You can file your email in one folder and let your email system search for it when you need it. It may take a few minutes to find, but searching through multiple folders, trying to remember what you originally filed it under, takes time too.

Don’t give into the chaos of email. You can control it, you just have to be committed and learn some new behaviors. In all, you will manage your workflow more effectively, get more done, and be a better leader by bringing some order to your own email chaos.

How do you handle the chaos of your email? What other advice do you have?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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