Taming the Email Tiger

in 10 easy steps

Be honest, how many messages are sitting in your inbox right now? And how many of those show as unread???

It is only too often that, over the shoulders of co-workers, I have seen inboxes with hundreds of emails. Gone are the days of having a personal secretary. And unless you are the CEO, you will have to learn how to “Tame the Email Tiger” yourself.

I am a fairly organised person, yes, the type that has nice spreadsheets for everything, but even I needed some practical tips to deal with the cognitive overload in today’s work environment. In 2004 I was introduced to the “organised first” technique taught by Mark (Chook) Lovekin. For more details, check out his site at: https://www.2ticks.org

Using his approach with some minor adjustments, I have managed to keep my inbox to a single (yes!!!) page for over 20 years. 

These are the ten steps that have helped me to stay on top of my inbox, as well as capturing actions from phone calls, meetings, casual conversations etc. 

Step 1: Go to your emails and set up an email folder called “CC folder 2022”.

Step 2: Create a rule for your inbox that automatically moves all emails on which you are cc-ed (and bcc-ed) to this folder. You will quickly see a big difference in your inbox. 

  • Yes, when you have time look through these (scan at least once a week), but they do not need any action from you.

Step 3: Next, look at your overall workload, your kpi’s, and decide how you could group these and the associated incoming emails best in anything between two and nine categories. Then set up a set of email folders reflecting these:

  • My folders are usually “AAA For Action Project 1”, “AAA For Reading”, “AAA Filing 2022”, “AAA HR”, “AAA personal” and “AAA Other”. AAA prefix makes it easier to find them!
  • Don’t be tempted to create too many folders. With the modern search tools available it will be easy enough to find relevant emails.

Step 4: Take time to go through your entire inbox. Move each email to one of the folders. The first time this might take a couple of hours. Do your entire inbox until it is empty. In the process you may find it easier to combine or to split folders. Yes, it can be done!!!

Email Folder Structure with 7 folders

Step 5: Now book a number of appointments with yourself:

  • Every morning first thing a recurring hourly appointment called “work prioritisation”, to allow you to go through your inbox and plan your work for the rest of the day and the week;
  • Add additional appointments reflecting the various folders you created. These should be at least 2-3 hours to be productive. You will be moving these around, carrying them forward to next week, and changing them in length. They are used to block out time to actually do some of the work that is on your action lists, so are not recurring, but evergreen!
Example Calendar with Daily Prioritisation and Action time blocks

Step 6: In the morning go through the emails in your inbox and:

  • deal with them straight away if they are urgent or only take 5 minutes to do;
  • or file them in the relevant action folder, and make a note in the corresponding “Action” appointment, referring to the email, what and when it needs doing (see the above example);
  • or file them in your “AAA reading” folder if you want to read them later;
  • or take note of them and put them in your 2022 filing folder.

Step 7: Then look at all your action appointments and plan your day and week. Block out time to work on your actions, keeping in mind deadlines and decision points and meetings.

Step 8: During the day capture new actions from emails, phone calls, meetings, chats, etc in your action lists so you don’t forget about them.

Step 9: At the end of the day, check your action list, check your emails again, and see if you need to prioritise the work for the rest of the week differently.

Step 10: When you send an email, use FYI (for your information), FYA (for your action) in the subject title to make it easier for the recipients to respond to. And ask them to do the same for you. Remember, they too are likely to have overflowing inboxes!



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