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Time management and organization skills are among the most critical skills for leaders to possess.  So why is it that so many of us often struggle to manage our calendars, our email, people stopping by our desks, the fires that pop up, and on and on everyday?  Well, for each of us there is a different answer to ‘Why’ but there’s a more critical answer to ‘How’.  How do I regain time in my day?  How do I juggle all of the balls I have in the air?  How do I balance home life and work life?  By using some of the tools that we’re all familiar with in, for the most part, a simplistic fashion, we’ll lay out a path to taking back your calendar and your inbox and creating real time in your day.

Too many emails!  How do I organize my inbox and get on top of the daily emails?

Let’s start by looking at your inbox as it stands today.  How many read and unread emails do you have in your inbox folder?  (you can find the number of emails in the bottom left corner of your screen in Microsoft Outlook)  If you’re like most people your inbox is cluttered with old emails, things you plan to get back, and the emails you haven’t yet read.  In some cases people have carried thousands of emails in this folder! 

The first step to more time in your day is to manage your time spent in email.  We’ll break down a simple system that, while it needs discipline to apply, will result in a more organized mailbox, more time in your day, and an easier to manage day in the office. 

First, how many of us receive an email, give it a quick read and decide it’s something we need to work on, focus on, or do but now isn't the time?  I’m betting we all do that.  Too often we spend time reading and later rereading messages in our inboxes stored there to make sure we come back to them later, or worse our inbox becomes the folder we store every message in with the hopes of being able to search for that item we’re looking for.  To regain control of your inbox and your life, you've got to make a change. 

3 questions to ask yourself about every email you read

Does the email require an action on my part?  If the answer is yes, take that action now.  Can’t make the time for it at this moment?  Instead of letting that message clutter your inbox as a reminder to come back to it later, simply click on the message and drag it to your sidebar and drop it over the word ‘Tasks’.  This will open a window asking you to enter details about the task.  Adding the email to your task list will ensure you make time for it later and that you clearly define what action is needed from you.  This lessens the need to read and reread the message multiple times later to refresh your memory. 

Is the email for informational purposes only?  If the answer is yes, but you don’t have time right now, move that message into a folder.  You can name your folder ‘Reference’, ‘Information’, or whatever you like.  By separating the emails that you may want or need to read but that aren't urgent from those that you need to act on now or action later, you will clear up the clutter in your inbox and also free up space in your head from trying to juggle all the ‘I need to get back to that’ type emails.  You’ll now have a folder that you can refer back to or even schedule time to spend reading the updates and informational emails. 

Is the email interoffice spam, unnecessary, or not applicable to me?  If the answer is yes, don’t hesitate to hit the delete button or key.  Getting those emails out of your inbox not only makes sense but in most people’s inbox helps reduce the clutter quickly. 

With these concepts in mind you may find that once you've read and/or action emails you may still want to keep some of the communications.  Well that’s where more folders come in.  There are many systems that can be applied. 

Some of the most effective methods for organizing email folders are listed below.

  • Topical Email Organization – This is where you create folders on particular topics, such as HR Updates, Performance Management, or projects.  Sorting emails out by topic or subject matter will allow you to find an email easily later even if you can’t remember who sent it or when it was. 
  • People Email Organization – If you workplace is small or people’s functions in the organization are well defined you can also consider organizing your email by people.  This is where you create a folder in Outlook for every person that you want to save email for and file their emails there.  If you can’t remember the outcomes of a particular thread or want to double check some content you can always refer back to the folder at a later date.