Getting back in the email groove

I recently had a week off in Croatia.

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I try my best to make sure a week off actually means a week off and luckily, the wifi was so bad there, that our phones and iPads weren’t picking up all the emails coming in.

So when I got home, refreshed from a great few days of sitting in the sun, I had a massive backlog of emails. Keeping my inbox at zero every day, it’s easy to forget the overwhelming feeling of standing at the foot of an email mountain.

Luckily, with some ninja email skills, the week’s email backlog (several hundred messages) was easily conquered in around two and a half hours. Here’s five things to help you clear your email backlog when you’re back from holiday – or just not in the habit of processing them regularly!

Use a good program

For me, Outlook is as good as it gets with email. If you’re going to increase your processing speed, forget the idea of trying to do it on your phone. Likewise, web-based programs like Gmail and simple programs like the iPad’s email client don’t give you as much flexibility to group things together, flick quickly between views and make lots of quick selections.

Stay out of the detail

When you’re dealing with a backlog, it’s best to ‘hack’ as much as possible, before you get into any of the detailed processing and decision-making. Get all the deleting and filing done very quickly. I find sorting by sender and subject the fastest way to do this (starting at the earliest date and working to the newest is soul-destroying slow, yet it’s what a lot of people tend to do)

The 30 second eyeball

Once you’re into the ‘processing’ part – where you need to read the detail for potential decisions and actions – use the ‘30-second eyeball’ approach: if you can’t figure it out in 30 seconds, put it to one side (in a folder marked ‘Action’) for you to return to later. This promotes quick-thinking, ruthless focus and hopefully lots of 20-second ‘scan-then-delete’ decisions.

Phone a friend

What many of us find with email is the classic 80-20 rule: 80% of our email traffic comes from just four or five people. Rather than responding to a hundred emails from your boss, why not give them a call or sit at their desk and read through the email issues together. You’ll find it forces you into quicker decisions and they’ll be delighted to get answers so quickly.

What gets measured gets managed

Realising how many emails from your week off were truly actionable can be liberating. It also gives you a neat focus on where the value is added, rather than staring at an email mountain and feeling overwhelmed. So organising the ‘real stuff’ into an ‘Action’ folder will allow you to plan your way back to zero. I aim to cut it to 30 on the first day back, then 20, 10, 5 and zero by the end of that first week back.

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