Saturday, January 09, 2010

Getting from "In" to "Empty"

Let's look at a daily practice in each of our loves. You walk to the curb and take the mail from the mailbox. When you walk away from that mailbox, it is empty! Better yet, it’s not empty just one day; it’s empty at the end of every day. Wouldn’t it be great if only your e-mail inbox operated like the mailbox by the curb?

Decisions, Decisions 
The key to getting an empty inbox is to simply make decisions about each and every item there. Therefore, make a practice of only looking at your e-mail when you have the time and energy to make those decisions. You are going to need to go from top to bottom and make small decisions at each turn.

Delete 
It Much of your e-mail requires no action on your part other than briefly scan it and hit the delete key. Candidates include advertisements in which you have no interest, jokes, threads from e-mail discussion groups, and FYI courtesy copies. I find it helpful to sort the e-mail by “conversation.” All mail related to a single subject appears together. If the subject is of no interest, I delete the entire thread at one time.

Do It 
Some e-mails require only a quick response. I recommend giving that response immediately and then deleting the mail if it is of no further value. What if the response is going to take some time, and possibly some research? In that case, I send a quick response to let the person know I received the message and will be getting back with them. Using Outlook, I drag the e-mail to the Task icon, assign a due date, and change the subject line as needed. I then delete the e-mail.

Schedule It 
If the e-mail talks about somewhere I am supposed to be on a certain date and certain time, that information belongs on the calendar. I drag the e-mail to the Calendar button, which creates a new appointment. Adding a date and time, and then saving puts the appointment on my calendar. I still have access to all of the details in the e-mail. They show up in the note section of that appointment.

Delegate It 
Perhaps someone else really needs to be handling this message. I forward the message the appropriate person. I want to be able to follow-up on whether the person performed the delegated task, so I create a reminder by dragging the e-mail to the Task button and creating a due date so that I see it again on the date I have chosen. Now, I delete the e-mail.

Save It 
What if the information may be of lasting value? I can save the e-mail by going to the “File” menu and choosing “Save As.” I am able to choose the appropriate place on my computer. If the e-mail is something I need to save for documentation purposes, I go to the “Memos & Letters” folder I have created in “My Documents.” I name the file with the author’s last name, a hyphen, and a few words descriptive of the subject. I choose to save the message as a text file. After saving, I can then delete the e-mail. Perhaps the e-mail is a lesson plan. I would then save it with other lesson plans already stored electronically.

“In” Becomes “Empty” 
The point is that a decision is made about each piece of e-mail, and that decision is made the first time the message is read. The basic decision is in which category a message falls: Delete, Do, Schedule, Delegate, or Save. After handling each item, “In" soon becomes “Empty.”
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