Two simple ways to stay on top of e-mail

EMail Hacks For Productivity

Everyone in the modern world seems to complain about e-mail. Like, everyone. I’ve had a bunch of jobs, in a bunch of different industries/verticals/cities/bosses, and regardless of all the differences, this whole concept of ‘OMG, I cannot stay on top of my e-mail!’ permeated at every single place. It’s gotta be universal, at least in white-collar cubicle world.

I’ve never really had this problem. The first part of that argument is that I’ve never really had a super-important role at any job I’ve held, so … you can argue that it makes sense that I don’t get a ton of e-mails. The second part of the argument is that I like to think of myself as a semi-logical person and I try not to get overwhelmed by a bunch of Reply Alls floating in, because that’s what e-mail tends to be: reply-alls, e-mail marketing offers you sent to your work account, and TOTFs. That means “turds over the fence,” which is essentially an e-mail chain where someone higher-up drops something in your lap completely devoid of context. Those are fairly common.

Over the years I’ve been working, I have done two things with my e-mail inboxes that I think are kind of smart in terms of productivity, and I decided to blog about ’em here. I’m no expert on productivity or e-mail, although I do write and read about this topic a lot, such as:

Alright, so … my two “hacks?”

Things To Do: It amazes me how many I’ve met and explained this to who completely don’t understand the idea, then eventually adopt it. Here’s what it is: you make a sub-folder for your Inbox called “Things To Do.” That’s it. Really simple. When you get an e-mail that requires some kind of response or deliverable, you drop it in there. You can do that if you get an e-mail at 11pm or 1pm. Then, every morning you come in to work … and you make a list of the core things to do that day, your “mise-en-place” if you will … and then, after that, you look in “Things To Do” and whatever is there, you respond to it. Simple. Elegant. You keep putting things in there while they need attention/response. When it moves from “discussion” to “action,” you can have another folder related to the specific area it entails, i.e. “Sales” or whatever. But “Things To Do” is a folder you can always check, deal with, and move forward knowing you’re all aligned.

Examples Of E-Mails I Always Write: I have a folder literally called this. Look. You may think you’re insanely special. You’re not. Most of the e-mails you write generally explain the same ideas or concepts, i.e. the core concepts of your job and the deliverables you chase. People waste so much time retyping “OK, well, I’m looking for this … and in this way…” If you send one version of that e-mail and you know you’re going to send it 15 more times, save the sent copy in this Examples folder. Then when someone e-mails you along the same lines, go into Examples and cut-and-paste the old copy, make sure it’s still relevant, and reply to the new sender. You just saved 5-7 minutes. Helpful, no?


Ted Bauer

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