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Does it feel like email is controlling your life? Find yourself checking your email every 10 minutes during your waking hours? We all lead busy lives, and with increased pressure on productivity, we’re all looking at ways to save time. If you’re like me, you probably receive more than your fair share of email — I receive more than 100 emails a day on average — so how do you cope with increasing email loads?

I have a simple system that has worked for some time, and I’d like to share it. Basically, I tend to use my inbox as an email task list, with the majority of my day-to-day activities found here. I check my email every hour or so, depending on my schedule. I read new emails, then sort through older ones that still remain in my inbox.

“The five Ds” is what I call my approach. As I traverse my inbox, I complete one of five actions with every email:

Do
If the email requires a response or an action, and it will take me less than a minute or two, I’ll do it straight away. Otherwise, I leave it in the inbox for a second perusal.

Delegate
Many of the emails I receive are related to tasks that my business is undertaking. If the email can be handled by a team member closer to the project or topic at hand, I’ll delegate the response to that person.

Defer
If the action or response is going to take longer than the time I have right now, I’ll defer processing it and leave it in my inbox for later. Typically I set aside at least 20-30 minutes per day for those larger responses or tasks.

Drop
If I’ve dealt with the email or there’s no further action required other than me reading it, I’ll drop it into the appropriate subfolder. I typically keep my folder structure minimalist, with just about all email ending up in my “year” folder — for example, “2009” for this year’s emails. That way, your inbox is compact and tidy.

Delete
If the email is spam or holds no future value for archiving, I’ll delete it. I do hoard emails though; the many gigabytes of email I’ve sent and received over the last decade — and still have — proves this. I tend to keep all emails relating to projects or clients indefinitely.

If you’re nodding your head and thinking, “That sounds a lot like Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done system,” you’d be correct. I haven’t read the book personally, and the approach is my own, but if you’re interested in learning getting, I’ve heard it’s a worthwhile read.

If you find that you treat your inbox like a task list, I’d encourage you to trial this method. Let me know what you think.

This post first appeared as part of Issue 450 of the SitePoint Tribune, a very popular email newsletter that I am co-editor of. Thanks to SitePoint for allowing me to reproduce the work here.

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