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Articles to Help You Be More Productive

Enjoy these articles? There are many more available:
  • Time Management Article Collection
  • Microsoft Outlook and Email Article Collection
  • Managing Paper Article Collection
  • Computer Tips Article Collection
  • Less-Paper Office Article Collection
  • Computer & Email
  • Get the Most from Microsoft Outlook

  • Beware the Empty Inbox

  • Get the Most from Your Handheld

  • Do Digital Organizers Save Time - Or Waste It?

  • Efficient E-mail Habits

  • Transitioning from Paper to Digital Information Storage

  • Faxing Without A Fax Machine

  • Getting Your Files When You're On The Go

  • Business & the Office
  • Time Tactics for the Office

  • Keeping Track of Delegated Tasks

  • Controlling Interruptions

  • Keeping Track of Your Customers & Prospects

  • Do Your Employees Really Need Customer Service Training?

  • Paper Management
  • Action Files Prevent Desk Clutter

  • Reclaim Your Desktop with a Tickler File

  • What To Do With All Those Business Cards?

  • Managing Project Folders - A Surprising Tip that Works

  • Time Management & Organizing
  • The Power of Planning Ahead

  • Words of Wisdom You Should Ignore

  • Coping with Information Overload

  • Thirteen No-Tech Time Management Tips

  • Managing Email - Beware the Empty Inbox
    © Jan Jasper 2008-2012

    People talk about attaining an empty email inbox as if it's the Holy Grail. Getting your inbox to zero sounds great and done right, it can be. But done wrong, this take-no-prisoners approach to managing email can backfire. This raises the existential question of how you define "empty." Do you move emails out of the Inbox but are really kicking the can down the road? Or are you actually dealing with the emails?

    At one extreme are those who empty their inboxes by moving huge mousefuls of emails to other folders which they've labeled "Read Someday" or "Later." (I know someone who has at least 2 years worth of email in a big "Read Someday" folder - scary!) It would help if emails always carried precise subject lines. But too often subject lines are not very specific. (Your software may allow you to edit the subject header, but you have to take time to read the email first so you can determine the proper header.)

    While using filters and custom folders is much better for managing email than a huge "Later" folder, you could still miss something important. The most important thing is to distinguish between FYI emails and those that require action. The challenge is that many emails are both. If you get an email update on a project you're involved in, you could promptly move it (perhaps by a filter you're created) it into that project's folder. But that can be risky, depending on the complexity of your project, how much else is on your mind, and how good your memory is. What if the email mentions something you need to do? You could flag such emails with a reminder that will pop up on the appropriate date, or turn the email into a task (both are easy to do in Outlook*). But you can't do this unless you know what's in the email.

    How about those friendly emails that are nice to get, but not urgent? Let's say an old colleague sends you a "Hey how's it going?" email and 3 paragraphs down, he writes "Do you remember so-and-so? He's just been made managing director at Monster Holding Company." If you assume this email is low-priority because of the casual subject line and you set it aside unread, you won't know about so-and-so's promotion, you won't give him a congratulatory phone call - and a networking opportunity is lost.

    It's usually OK to move (or filter) emails into folders after a quick look, but you must make time to actually read them later. Otherwise you could overlook crucial information that was not apparent from the subject line.

    How about managing email newsletters? It's OK to set aside email newsletters to read later - assuming you actually do read them. Otherwise you're fooling yourself. People are reluctant to discard electronic newsletters because they might contain life-altering information. Yes, they might - but the information does you no good, unless you know it's there. Just like saving stacks of unread magazines with all the "great information" we couldn't throw out - we'll never benefit from this information if we didn't know we had it.

    Don't overestimate the powers of your search tools for finding information. For example, if you want to locate eLetters that contain information about marketing, you'd also have to search synonyms like branding, messaging, and so on - that could be time-consuming. You're far better off quickly reading the newsletters as they come in, and for those you wish to keep, assigning some kind of tag or category (depending on what your software allows), filing them away, and deleting the rest. This may mean they stay in your inbox a bit longer, but you're more likely to get some use out of the information this way. Otherwise, you may as well delete them upon receipt - or better yet, unsubscribe. Be realistic: Some of the information will be obsolete before you can use it, and what has staying power will probably be repeated in future newsletters.

    For more on this topic, see "Coping with Information Overload"

    This article is available for a one-time reprint or one-time internet posting if you include my copyright notice, provide a link to www.janjasper.com and identify me as follows: "Jan Jasper, a productivity expert in the New York City area, is the author of Take Back Your Time: How to Regain Control of Work, Information, & Technology (St. Martin's Press)." Read Terms and Conditions for details.
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    About the Author:
    Productivity coach Jan Jasper has been helping busy people work smarter, not harder since 1988. Her customized approach guides clients to manage time, tasks, and information more effectively. She also provides Microsoft Outlook customization for clients. Jan is the author of Take Back Your Time: How to Regain Control of Work, Information, & Technology (St. Martin's Press). She recently completed a North American media tour as the national efficiency spokesperson for IKON Office Solutions, Inc. She has appeared on radio and TV all over North America and is quoted regularly in print. Jan is an adjunct instructor at New York University.

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