Helping cut down Email Stress – My Tips for dealing with Inbox overload

Everyone is spends some of their time processing the flow of information through their inbox or in-tray.

Sometimes I’m sure folk feel like their inbox is part of a production line and they need to process stuff as quick as possible before something breaks or hits the floor.

You may feel like you’re in your own version of this classic Mario Bros. game…

Classic Mario Bros. (Mario Bros Game & Watch)

I hope you’re not in this persons’ shoes!

(attribution : dpstyles)

Or if you are, it’s not stressing you out.

It’s not uncommon for the number of messages (read or unread) in an email inbox to lead to a feeling of stress – getting behind on your tasks, or getting snowed under.

So unless you’re comfortable with everything in the inbox (everything’s in 1 place) – and you don’t mind that.  Then these may be helpful tips to reduce that email stress.

My Tips for helping to deal with Email:

  1. Use the sender and subject lines – to help decide how much attention you need to give a message before it’s opened
  2. Use filters or agents (rules) to mark unimportant (email subscriptions |newsletters) as read as soon as they arrive or move them out of the inbox – saves you a mouse click or two  [Gmail is brilliant at this]
  3. Use your preview function – to scan through email
  4. Get your folder structure right (it helps you track where you are with categorising and prioritising your work – especially if you receive tasks | actions via email)
  5. Use buttons or shortcuts to move messages into folders quickly and simply – again saves you a mouse click or two (then the email dealt with… but you can come back to it later if needed)
  6. Turn off the New Mail Alert pop-up or sound alert (especially for busy times when you’re concentrating on something else)
  7. Reduce the frequency to check or update the inbox (make it every 15 or 20 minutes instead of 5 minutes for example)

Organising your Mail File Folders:

Your approach to this will be reflected in how you think of email.  Do you treat it as personal knowledge repository (it’s not what email was created to do, and there are better options), or if you see it as part of your general information processing and flow?   If you see it as information delivery and processing service that can really help shape your strategy to sort and categorise the messages you receive.

Personally, I now treat email as a temporary information|content store, a processing station for sorting out each message as it requires.

I see 3 main categorises of messages:

  • Actions  –  processed by prioritising and then action
  • Knowledge –  processed by keeping & moving to appropriate content store (not email!) or disposing
  • Responses –  processed by keeping & moving to appropriate content store (not email!), an action or dispose

Therefore I have the following folder structure in my mail file:

image

Follow Up : – Actions I need to respond to

Keep : – Medium to Long Term messages that need to be referenced infrequently for a particular topic (folder names make that obvious) – delete or purge once no longer relevant

Processed :- Where messages that have been read, actioned (if required) are moved to – eventually deleted.

Subscriptions :- Where newsletters, collaboration system notifications, subscriptions are moved to – rapidly deleted (after 10 days).

Useful Toolbar Buttons:

As a Lotus Notes user, there are couple of additional tweaks to the client UI that can be helpful in speeding up the processing of email.

Lotus Notes has a configurable Toolbar:

image

This can configured via the Preferences section: (via File > Preferences > Toolbar > Customize) or right click on the Toolbar and customize

image

The useful Toolbars to customize are:

  • Navigate View
  • Read Document

These appear automatically in context (in any view or folder or when reading a document) – as they are context sensitive.

image

I’ve set up a couple of “move to folder” buttons:

They use the formula:

@Command( [Folder] ; “Folder Name” ;”1″ )

or

@AddToFolder(“MovetoFolderName“;”RemovefromFolderName“)

So use this as many times as you need for the folders you have.

I’ve also added a button for showing only unread mail – helps clear away the clutter.

That uses the formula:

@Command( [ViewShowOnlyUnread] )  

Again it saves a few mouse clicks – the current action in

image

is rather hidden away and fiddly to use.

Formula Language Text Annotation notes:

Black font:- Formula language and key variables – only change if competent and knowledgeable about Lotus Formula language and structure.

Red font:- Indicates Lotus Notes folder name to be inserted into code to give destination folder of processed documents.

I’ve also written about another customisation of the Lotus Notes toolbar here: Filing knowledge into services via Email  – this provides a more thorough “how-to” on creating Toolbar buttons for yourself.

So there you go – nothing perhaps that is new and ground breaking but a helpful reminder.

What are your hints and tips for dealing with email?

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  1. Make Reading on the Web that much Clearer! « TACTICS
  2. E L S U A ~ A KM Blog Thinking Outside The Inbox by Luis Suarez » Reflections from 2011 – A World Without Email – The Documentary

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