Managing a mountain of email

May 10, 2008 by

Most likely, if you’re involved in higher education, you get a lot of email. During the week, I get between 50 and 100 emails a day, which seems like a lot, but I recently read that some people receive (and deal with) over 1000 a day!

My goal has always been to try to “zero” my inbox frequently, but lately I have not been so successful – lots of reading material comes in, and between newsletters in my inbox and my Google Reader, I’m buried in information.

 

 

I just came across this Google Tech Talk, called “Inbox Zero” (by Merlin Mann) that I thought was a very appropriate thing to share with my readers – especially since almost everyone is either done, or almost done, with the semester. The Google Talks run 60 minutes, but you can get by watching the first 30 minutes of this one – and in the end, watching this video will save you well over 30 minutes of time, so I would consider it good value for your attention & time budget.

One of the most valuable ideas that Mann discusses is the idea of an “email DMZ folder” (I think this came in the Q&A period after the talk). If you’ve been letting your email inbox build up forever, create a folder (or label) called DMZ. Take everything currently in your inbox (and I do mean EVERYTHING) and move it to the DMZ. There. Now you have zero messages in your inbox and can begin to use a sane system for processing your email.

Another important distinction that Mann makes in his talk is that we have to stop thinking of email as requiring a response, and start thinking of it as simply requiring processing. Using gmail certainly makes this easy, as you are already forced to abandon silly folders (he points out … how often do you actually manage to locate emails in those folders correctly? how often do you even look in those folders?). I sorted through the 200 or so emails still sitting in my inbox (while I watched the Inbox Zero talk) and whittled down my labels to the following:

MCC: email that comes to my college address – it’s automatically labeled MCC

Respond: email that does need a response, but not necessarily immediately

Reading: email that is informational … like newsletters, I also set up several filters to have newsletters automatically sent to this label and archived

Blogs-to-be: email that I send myself or I get from readers that should eventually be blogged about – if you have sent me something, but haven’t yet seen it on the blog, this is where it is located until being dealt with

Copier: email sent from the copier at school … I have to remember to delet these after I save them or they take up a lot of storage space

Respond (Starred): these are emails that I need to respond to, and I need to do it relatively quickly. I removed the stars from all my emails this morning, and then only applied them to the truly high-priority items.

The general idea:

1) Junk? Or you don’t it after reading it? Delete it.

2) If it’s simple to do respond to (and requires a response), deal with it.

3) Otherwise, archive it (to the appropriate folder or with the appropriate label).

I’ve been good about these first two, but not the third. So, now that I’m back at zero … I’m going to try to be better about maintaining my Zero Inbox.

P.S. Stay tuned for our updates from the first (annual?) MCC Math & Technology Workshop, happening on the Muskegon Community College campus from Monday-Friday next week.

I will be inviting participation from the Internet audience on Wednesday afternoon for our session on Synchronous Online Communication, so if you can’t come, but want to join in the technology fun, watch for a link to participate in that.

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