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Do not let e-mail inbox become a stuffed turkey


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POSTED: Monday, June 22, 2009

How many messages are sitting in your e-mail inbox?

It's not unusual for people to have a hundred to hundreds of messages. It can be a jumble of new and old, read and unread, important and junk, active and reference.

How does this happen? Few people have an overstuffed voice mailbox. With voice mail, we listen to the messages, take notes if necessary, act and delete. We do this because we know recording space is limited.

Not so with e-mail. E-mail inboxes seem to have infinite capacity, so we leave messages there simply because we can! It's a handy place to store all our “;to-do's and messages we don't know what to do with.

According to Peter Kay, president and founder of CyberCom and creator of “;Your Computer Minute”; heard on radio, the No. 1 cause of e-mail inbox overload is that people use their inboxes as their to-do list.

Perhaps the No. 2 cause is “;shuffling,”; handling messages numerous times without taking action. Just as postponed decisions result in physical clutter, postponed decisions result in inbox clutter.

When you check your e-mail, do you purposefully handle each one you open or do you look at it and go on to the next message? If so, you may be suffering from what I call “;SIS,”; Stuffed Inbox Syndrome. The bad news is that SIS is mostly our own doing. As the comic book character Pogo says, “;We've met the enemy and it's us!”;

The good news is that there are steps you can take to gain control. The better news is that there are numerous features built into e-mail programs to assist us.

For those drowning in e-mail, those whose inbox has become a black hole where messages go in but don't come out, and those who leave messages in the inbox because they don't know what to do with them, here's a simple plan: “;DA RAFT.”;

It's the same simple system I teach to people drowning in paperwork. The “;DA”; stands for Decision and Action. The word “;RAFT”; contains the basic action choices: Refer, Act, File, Toss.

Set aside a block of time for each e-mail session. You may need several sessions each day. What works for you, 15 minutes? Half an hour? We all work better with a deadline. Do not leave your session open-ended lest you find that e-mail has gobbled up half your day!

STARTING with today's e-mail, open the important ones first and make a DECISION as to what ACTION to take:

» REFER? Hit the “;forward”; key and send it on its way.

» ACT? If you can reply in two minutes or less, do it immediately. If it will take longer, you can start your reply rough draft and hit the “;Save as draft”; key. Or you can drag and drop it into your electronic to-do list.

» FILE? If you need to keep it for reference, simply drag and drop it into electronic folders you have created on the left side of your screen.

Besides the important folders for projects, clients, contacts, presentations and such, I found I needed folders for things like “;upcoming events,”; “;coupons and offers,”; “;e-mail keepers”; with sub folders for health tips, inspirational, recipes and even funnies. Someone I know keeps a “;read when I have time”; folder. The key is to create folders and move messages OUT of your inbox.

» TOSS? That's easy. Just hit the “;delete”; key! Just as 40 percent of what's on a typical messy desk can be tossed, I'll bet that 40 percent of what's in a cluttered e-mail inbox can be tossed. My inspiration is Peter Kay, who clears out his inbox every day!

See you in two weeks with more tips, including some from readers.