Touch it once

By Tom Dowd | Mar 24, 2016

I used to have a position as business support manager for a large operation. I was privy to my manager’s inbox and was asked to periodically manage it for him. I thought it was an easy enough task — until the first time I saw his inbox and realized there were more than 1,000 emails. Many were read, while many others were not. Some were important, others were not. Some were critical, with deadlines that had passed. I had some work to do. The most critical point when dealing with email is to touch it once. As soon as you’ve chosen to allow yourself to read it or even preview it, you must now do something with it. Leaving it in your inbox should not be an option. Learn to touch it once.

You can effectively manage your inbox with a few easy tips. I normally filter my inbox by time with the most recent on top. However, for this exercise, start by filtering your inbox by “Subject” and keep only the most recent one if it’s a duplicate. Next, review for topics, subjects, or senders that come on a regular basis that you don’t ever read. If you can or want to, click on unsubscribe. If you feel there may be a need to reference it in the future but don’t read it often, establish a setting to send it directly to your trash, but know that you can get to it if you need to. Next, go through your current inbox and determine which emails have tasks or follow-up required. Make actual dates to work on them. Make appointments for following through by embedding or inserting the email into the calendar appointment. Email platforms with synchronized calendars will have tutorials or help if you need further details.

Read your emails once. Even if the email catches my eye as a preview, I have a rule of thumb to deal with it as soon as it’s seen. It already distracted me, so I should put it in its proper place. We only have a few choices in how to handle it: delete it, save it to another file for future reference, move it to an appointment to do something about it later, or address it now. Touch it once.

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