Look at Your Email Sideways

I’ve just returned from 4 weeks out of the office. Though I am now part of the Crackberry generation and have been able to keep vaguely up-to-date READING my email, my normal inbox processing habits are hard to keep up via an interface which relies entirely on clickwheel with hampered prescience. Another benefit (no really) of the Blackberry is that it is so painful* to write email back on it that I only ever write short urgent responses — everything else waits until I return to a laptop with email client.

This is very much a double-edged reality — on the one hand I tend to focus better on my holiday or business travel, limiting email time to 15-30 mins per day. On the other hand I am now faced with over a 1000 emails still left cluttering up my inbox.

I usually deal with this via a mammoth processing session, using many of the tips already covered in the Inbox Zero series. If you’re not nodding along with me here, stop right now and go investigate Inbox Zero. It’s a brilliant attitude to owning your email rather than it owning you and how to get brutal to make that happen.

Since I have been in roles where I have travelled A LOT, I’ve gotten pretty good at these mammoth processing sessions. Here are some extra tips — essentially how to look at your email sideways in ways that make those 1000 shrink down to something much more manageable:

  1. If your email client is also a calendar, sort by “message type” or “icon” and deal with any meeting invites, responses or cancellations first. These are the simplest type of message as all that is expected is that you accept, accept tentatively or reject.
  2. Next, sort by sender. The same people will have emailed you multiple times and often you only need to actually deal with the most recently received. The rest can be filed or deleted en masse (as per your usual strategy).
  3. As needed, group by conversation. Occasionally you’ll come across a long, complicated conversation thread. Again, you’ve been away so you can probably save time by skipping to the most recent instalment or two and ignoring the rest of the conversation. No one likes the bastard who returns from holiday and presents everyone with a point-by-point treatise on the entire email chain.

Pretty simple, but sometimes the simple things make the most difference. Next time you have a mass of inbox processing to do, try looking at your email sideways to shrink it.

* Please note: I have both RSI and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome so for me using a Blackberry (and most other computer equipment) really is painful. This was not a slur on Blackberry interfaces in general 😉

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