Handling the volume of e-mail has been a challenge for the knowledge worker for quite a few years now. This short video explains an attempt to help the situation for those who have g-mail accounts.

As the video demonstrates, mail is sorted into high priority and everything else with the idea being that you would handle the high priority items first and then everything else…let’s see…when you “have time.”

Here is my question, “How many ‘low priority’ tasks do you already have sitting around?” Do you really need more items in your already overgrown backlog? As soon as mail is marked “low priority” and we give ourselves permission to ignore it until we have more time, it becomes part of that haze that never has our full attention, yet constantly reminds us that something is being left undone.

There is a better way, and it consists of doing exactly the same thing with your e-mail inbox that you do with the mailbox that sits outside your house–empty it daily. Every day, we take the mail from the mailbox and then make decisions about each piece. Junk mail goes into the trash can immediately. Never in a million years would we make a pile of junk mail to go through later when we had more time. The pile would be so large we would never want to tackle it.

Getting the e-mail inbox empty is a matter of making decisions, making them one right after another, and making them quickly. Here is the drill I go through with every e-mail:

  1. Is this something for which there is no remaining value? Is so, hit “Delete.”
  2. Is this something someone else should be handling? If so, forward the e-mail and include somewhere in that e-mail  the tilde (~) sign. I have a rule written in Outlook that if an e-mail includes the tilde sign, a copy of that e-mail goes in my inbox. Point #4 discusses what to do with the copy.
  3. Does this information contain information about somewhere to be? If so, use the “drag and drop” feature on Outlook to create an appointment. Give the appointment a date and time. All of the details from the e-mail automatically appear in the note section of the appointment.
  4. Does the information relate to something to do? If what is needs to do is reply to the e-mail, and you can do so quickly, reply now. If the e-mail relates to something to do, and that something can be done quickly, go ahead and do it now. If the e-mail will take a little more attention, drag and drop the e-mail on the “Task” button, and Outlook creates a new task. Amend the subject line to clearly articulate the task. Then, ask the very important question, “When do I want to see this again?” Assign a start and due date based on the answer to that question.
  5. Is the information simply reference information? In other words, there is nothing that needs to be done right now or at any predictable time in the future, but it is information that if needed could be found quickly. Two options are available. One is to drag that information to the “Notes” icon. The other is save it on the computer’s hard drive wherever similar information would be stored. For example, if I am sent an e-mail containing a lesson plan on the solar system, I would save it on the hard drive with other science lesson plans.

The neat thing is that once the decision has been made about what to do, the e-mail can be deleted. The inbox is empty! I don’t know about you, but I would rather see an inbox that is empty rather than a growing stack of “low priority” e-mail.


Has you tried Google Priority Inbox? 
If so, how do your impressions stack up with mine?