Email, the communication medium that was supposed to make our life easier, has gotten so bad that many of us have become professional email answerers. Some people spend a few hours a day answering email, rather than doing their actual job. But if you can apply some Lean thinking to your email, you can keep it under control, and get more work done throughout the day.
You don’t have to respond to every email. Heck, you don’t even need every email. Unsubscribe from every newsletter subscription you haven’t opened in three months or more. Create filters that place newsletters you want into their own folder. Basically, if it’s a message you’re not going to do something with, you can delete it or archive it. Create more filters to place company-wide memos into another folder to read later. Your goal is to keep your incoming emails at a minimum, and it starts with filters.
Create flow and eliminate down time
In this case, your flow is your regular work. Avoid interruptions of your work by scheduling email response times for two 30-minute blocks, rather than interrupting everything the minute a message comes in. Schedule one for the morning and one for the late afternoon. If need be, set up an auto-responder that tells people you’re only answering emails during those times. This keeps you from constantly bouncing back and forth between email and your tasks.
- Inventory: Just like you shouldn’t build up too many raw materials or finished products, don’t let your inbox fill up. Don’t treat it like a to-do list. Instead, connect your email to your task program (Google Tasks, Outlook To-Dos, Wunderlist, etc.), and any time you need to respond to an email, create a task, and then archive the message.
- Motion & Transportation: Efficiency experts tell you to handle a piece of paper one time — when you receive it, respond to it, trash it or file it. It’s the same with emails. When it hits your inbox, respond to it, convert it to a task, archive it or delete it. If you don’t think you’re going to get to it until later, delete it. If it’s not important enough to do something with right now, you probably won’t get to it until later either.
- Over-processing: Have you ever gotten an email that didn’t require a response — “there are donuts in the conference room” — but you responded anyway? Or you had to share a small piece of information, but put “Read this” in the subject line, with a single sentence in the body? That’s over-processing. If you don’t have to reply to something, don’t. If you can put the single sentence in the subject line, do it.
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Click here to read last week’s blog: Does Simple Automation Make Sense in Your Stretch Wrapping Process?
This post was published on January 22, 2014 and updated on July 31, 2017.
January 22, 2014