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Managers need to demonstrate daily evidence of disciplined work habits and unflappable confidence in decision making.  This effort can be diminished if, like me, you are an email junkie.  Below are three signs that you may have an addiction and could benefit from tips on how to detox.

  1. You often glance at your phone to check work email during lunch break, weekends, and nights out, even while on vacation.
  2. You respond to all email within minutes of receipt—as if this is a badge of courage or distinction of always being available.
  3. You draft more than two paragraphs of material and send the email to a co-worker who is within walking distance.

Yep, I am guilty of the above and I have a problem.  So I have asked blog co-writer, Jillian Bichanich, to help me discover ways to beat my addiction through improved work habits and better use of Outlook features.

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The benefits of email are incredible: written letters sent at the speed of a mouse click, the ability to send the same information to multiple people, no time or place constraints, and the fact that every email account should minimally be low-cost, if not free to the user.  For a long time, email has granted people in the workplace a great increase in productivity because of the reasons just mentioned, but it seems that today email has also developed a dark side.  The same invention that allows for incredible benefits in communication has also hindered many with an increase in stress and a decrease in worker productivity; trying to filter through the hundreds of emails that are currently sitting in one’s inbox is not a part of the day I expect anyone looks forward to.  So what steps can you take to clean out your inbox and organize your email so that it can again become a helpful tool in your day-to-day business activities?  Well I’ve done the research and thought I would share it with you…

The book “Inbox Detox” by Marsha Egan outlines twelve steps to inbox detox.  While some of these steps are better than others, I have summarized all of them in the hopes that they will help both you and Jon in inbox organization.

Step 1: Commit to Change.  Just like when you decide to make healthy lifestyle choices, this will also take commitment.  You will have to do things differently if you want different results.  This is not a matter of clearing out your inbox once, it is a matter of accepting and applying new rules and habits so that you can keep your inbox clear always.

Step 2: Own Your Email.  Many people have come to believe that it is necessary to respond to emails as soon as you receive them in your inbox.  For most emails, this is not the case.  Answering an email that you receive right away can stop yourself from advancing towards a different objective that may be more important.  It takes time and energy to concentrate on your response and then try to re-focus your efforts back to what you were doing in the first place.  Control the number of times you open your email each day.  If you are working on a specific task, do not let email interrupt you.

Step 3: Establish Regular Times or Spaced Intervals to Sort Your E-Mail.  Turn off email notifications that pop-up on your screen to ensure that newly received emails will not distract you.  Decide when you will and will not check your email, and if you don’t feel you will be able to resist the urge to check your mail, then change your server settings so that email is only delivered at certain times of the day.

Step 4: Change Your View of the Inbox.  Your inbox should act just like your postal mailbox.  Just as you wouldn’t let letters sit in your home mailbox until you take care of them, you shouldn’t let emails sit in your inbox until you take care of them.  Every time you go into your inbox, it should be with the intention to move emails or handle them.

Step 5: Empty Your Inbox Every Time You View It.  Yes, you can do this.  Over time emails begin to pile up in an inbox that isn’t cleared every day.  As the number of these emails increases, stress increases, and it is likely that there are many emails that haven’t been responded to.  You should only see new, unread messages when you open your inbox folder.  When you view one, you should immediately sort it, handle it, or trash it.

Step 6: Create e-Folders.  These email folders will have to be specific to your needs, but the most effective email filing systems will share the same basic components.  Create two basic categories: action folders and reference folders.  Action folders require action by you.  Reference folders contain information that you may need at a future time.  For action folders it may be helpful to create these three: Action-A (high priority items that need a response as soon as possible), Action-B (lower priority items that still require attention), and Action-Pending (for emails that are not complete, but for which you’ve done as much as possible, this may mean that you are waiting on action from another person).

Step 7: Apply the E-Mail Two-Minute Rule.  If an email can be handled and responded to in less than two minutes then take care of it immediately.  This will help to clear your inbox every time you choose to go into it.  Even if this is an extremely low priority, getting rid of quickly handled clutter is trump.

Step 8: Set a Regular Time to Plan Your Day. Most effective either first thing in the morning, or last thing you do before leaving at the end of the day, it is incredibly effective to plan out all of your daily activities.  This includes but is not limited to phone calls, projects, meetings, and tasks.

Step 9: Budget Time to Sort E-Mail. Allot time to sort email messages.  Too many people underestimate how long it actually takes to sort through emails daily.

Step 10: Reduce the Amount of E-Mail You Receive.  For every email that you send out you most likely will have a minimum of one email in return.  Before sending an email, ask yourself if it is necessary.  Will the topic be resolved better with a phone call?  Avoid emotion.  Use an auto-signature.  Place your main point in the beginning of the email and copy the right recipients.

Step 11: Involve Others.  Involve other people in your inbox goals.  Notify them that you will not be checking email as often, so for urgent needs they should stop by your desk or call you.  If you can get everyone on board, it is likely that workplace productivity will increase, while inbox stress will decrease.

Step 12: Celebrate Success.  Celebrate when you make these steps habit.  Promise yourself to continue with the Inbox Detox program, and pat yourself on the back and recognize your accomplishments when you can look into an empty inbox at certain intervals throughout the day.

Coming soon!  Look for Part 2 of this blog topic when I dive into technical tools that can help manage not only your inbox, but your email platform as well.  I will highlight ways that further help to control your email, keep track of your schedule, and organize reminders for important tasks.

Managing eLearning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks which includes Jon Aleckson and Jillian Bichanich.  Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.