Taming The Email Monster How To Take Control Of Your Inbox And Your Life

People ask me all the time how I manage to do so much. I tell them I've learnt not to sleep. In truth, having an overloaded schedule is nothing to be proud of, but there's no getting around the fact that I do have multiple responsibilities: I pastor a church I run a sports club I help manage a campsite I am webmaster of around 50 sites I am a father of three Of course some of these responsibilities are more time-consuming than others, and the load in each area is never static, but I generally manage to keep all the balls in the air. I'd put this down to four things fundamentally: I have a strong team working with me In so far as is possible, I allow those who do the work to make the decisions in their area I schedule my time rigorously I take control of my email This last item might seem trivial compared to the first three, but it seems to me that nothing in this day and age can so easily destroy your working life as unmanaged email! Billions of emails now travel around our planet on a daily (if not hourly) basis.

This is great because it gives us the opportunity to build links and communication with people all around the globe in a way that could not have been imagined a generation ago. For the same reason though, it can also take over your working life. I generally receive between 150 to 200 emails per day. I know some people who get many times that number.

While some people may only get a handful, the more active you are in management, the more emails you are going to receive. It is unavoidable. The trick is to have a strategy for dealing with them. Let me outline my strategy as simply as possible. There are three steps: Step one: use a good spam filter When I say I receive between 150 to 200 emails, these are the legitimate ones.

If I added all the viagra-selling emails and the other rubbish that is directed at me, it would be double that number. I started using Spam Arrest to deal with my spam emails two years ago and would recommend it to anyone. I won't say more about that here, as I've written a full article on anti-spam solutions that you can find here if you're interested to read it.

This is the first step. Get the spam out of the way. Step two: turn your automated inbox OFF This is the most vital step in the system. Until you do this, you will have no peace.

Many things threaten to interrupt the best-planned working day, most obviously: People coming to the door unexpectedly Phone calls you weren't expecting You can get an office assistant to screen out both people and phone calls, but what is the point if you allow your inbox to whistle at you every two minutes, telling you that somebody has a new message for you? Of course you can ignore the swelling inbox, but when you've got that little notification whistle going off every 10 minutes, it can be like the old water torture - drip, drip, dripping on your forehead. It keeps grabbing your attention, and sooner or later your curiosity gets the better of you. 'I wonder who that could be, trying to reach me?' And so you take a peak, and all of a sudden your scheduled tasks have been sidelined. TURN IT OFF! The other side to this of course is that you need to schedule a time (or times) when you can manually download all your email.

Pick a time when your mind is reasonably sharp - first chore of the working day works for me. I actually check mine twice - first thing in the morning, and late in the evening. If you're receiving a similar volume of email to me, set aside an hour but no more. You won't be able to deal with 100 emails in five minutes, but it's not going to drag on forever either.

You'll see why in the next step. Step 3: Divide and Conquer This is the final step, and it needs to be done reasonably ruthlessly. You have three kinds of emails in your inbox Stuff that can be immediately thrown out Emails that take less than 2 minutes to deal with Emails that take more than 2 minutes to deal with Here's the procedure: Firstly, you download all that email and then glean through it, throwing out whatever is disposable. Work your way right through the pile, picking up spam emails that made it through your filters, system error messages that aren't relevant, returned emails that you didn't send (because some spammer hijacked your address) and any number of other emails that you are not relevant to you at the moment. I use the 'find' function in Outlook to grab hold of these in groups.

I do a search on 'subscribe' for instance, to check for notification emails that tell me that someone has subscribed to one of my autoresponders. Once I've scanned the bunch to check that they are genuine addresses, I delete them. Now this culling should cut down the size of your inbox by at least half. The next step is to go through the remainder of the pile and answer everything that requires a response that takes you less than 2 minutes. You can say 'yes' to that delivery, 'no' to that offer, and 'thanks' to that person who sent you birthday wishes.

I generally find that I can make a genuine response to three-quarters of the people I am in regular email communication with in two minutes or less. Keep in mind Father Dave's no. 1 guideline to good email communication: Just because you deal with people efficiently doesn't mean you don't care! After completing this step, I generally find that I've dealt with at least 90% of the email I started out with. Now here's the final trick - SCHEDULE WHAT'S LEFT FOR ANOTHER TIME I'm generally left with between three to ten emails that are going to require some serious attention. I schedule them for a period when I can devote the necessary time to them.

This has multiple benefits: The serious emails get the attention they deserve, instead of being squeezed in at the end of a long email-answering session. You are now freed up to get back to your other scheduled tasks. You introduce a rhythm into your communications with people that can be helpful to your long-term relationships. The significance of this last point may not be immediately obvious to everyone, but it is especially relevant to me as a pastor.

I get a lot of people writing to me with critical issues that require some level of counselling. While I try to respond quickly to an initial cry for help, if the relationship develops into an ongoing dialogue, I've found it to be very helpful to slow the communication process down to no more than one reply per day. This gives the person I am talking to time to think through what has been said and prevents them from becoming overly dependent on me.

It also keeps me feeling positive about the relationship rather than overwhelmed. Make sure you've got a good email program As to the nuts and bolts of using this system, I find that Microsoft Outlook works great for me (and I mean 'Outlook' and not 'Outlook Express'). Whatever program you use, it helps a lot to be able to turn an email into a task and to be able to schedule a task straight into your calendar.

Outlook makes this simple for me. I create a task, insert the email into the task, and then insert the task somewhere into the calendar. Maybe you've got another program that works equally well for you in this regard. If so, great! Well, that's it! Take control of your email and you should find it much easier to have control of your time as a whole.

I can't guarantee that this will give you more time to sleep. If you're like me, it may just mean that you're able to squeeze even more things into your schedule, but that's a subject for another article (best written by someone else). .

Rev. David B. Smith (the 'Fighting Father') Parish priest, community worker,martial arts master, pro boxer, author, father of three. Get a free preview of Dave's book,Sex, the Ring & the Eucharist when you subscribe to his newsletter at

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