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How to NOT drown in your email?

Does your Inbox overwhelm you at times?

What about after returning from a vacation? When each morning I used to dread opening my mail and together with this I noticed how draining it was I started looking for a solution. Sound familiar?
With many of us there are things we could be managing differently and take advantage of better ways to be more efficient with our time which has become such a valuable resource. Here is what I do with my mails which is an adapted version of David Allen's GTD - getting things done. GTD has many great ideas related to organization and management and its worth checking out.

The first recommendation of GTD is NOT, again! NOT!!! to check your mails every 3 minutes. (Also not every 5 minutes). You should schedule time for checking mails. (This is obviously not relevant for Support or service orientated professions where the job requires continual checking of your mail.) If you are using MS-Outlook and receiving a reminder with each incoming mail, this can be somewhat distracting. Microsoft has many great features, lets skip this one.

GTD recommends emptying your Inbox daily. There is a completely different feeling when you start your day with a number of emails instead of 100's or 1000's. (I worked with a client who had 5000 emails.)

Here are the key foundations of GTD for better Email control:

DELETE: This means using the delete key a lot. The more and more I use it the more I love it. It can take months and months of practice.

DO: When you read an email if you can reply to it in less than 2 minutes then do so. After this delete or file.

FILE: Move the email to a folder if you don't want to delete it.

@Action: This is the name of a top folder that when you read the email and see that you cannot reply to it immediately as you have things to check or do first then you can place it in your action folder. It is important to make some time in your schedule for working on your action emails and replying to them. These mails are ones you have read but will attend to later.

@Wait: Its a waiting folder for when you have sent an email on to someone and want to follow up to see if the have replied. I use the stars feature in gmail instead.
@Read: This is where you drop all the mails that you would love to read sometime.

So that's GTD for you - SO simple. Remember once you read something in your Inbox it has to have one of 3 actions - Delete, Do, File.

I personally love Gmail and use it with such pleasure. I highly recommend their Google Calendar too.

Today I find that my Inbox IS empty at the end of the day. It took me about 6 months to get into the new habits that GTD recommends. It was well worth it.

By Samantha Amit, February 2010

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