One of my challenges when I was in a global management role, working out of London, was that I would be on email at 5am addressing issues in China, and still have urgent emails pouring in at 10pm, when the US were now on line. Trying to get on top of email seemed to be a never ending losing battle, until I applied a simple methodology: Triage, Decide, Do (TDD). Step 1 is to triage. I scan through everything that is there so I know what is important. Everything in isolation is important, you can only really know what the top priority is, once you know what all the other priorities are. During this step, I delete all junk mail or trivial time wasters and file all (for info only-no action required) read items. The second step is to Decide: I can now prioritise my inbox, having read everything that is in there. So I decide IF and WHEN I am going to do it. I don’t put it on a ToDo list, I schedule it in my diary. The decision tree for sorting my inbox goes like this: For the really urgent, but quick items, I just do it then and there. For the really important, but not urgent items I create a “meeting” timeslot in my diary, attach it to the Outlook diary entry and remove from my inbox. For the urgent items that demands a little more time, I mark them unread and delete the rest, so that all that is left in my – now uncluttered - inbox are urgent things that need to be done today. The final step is Do. Apply the Yoda strategy. “There is no such thing as try, there is do, or do not do.” In the time slot allocated for the task, I complete the task, rather than flitting between multiple activities, because I have already established this is THE most important thing to do next.
Jeff Weiner, who is Head of LinkedIn, has over 4000 employees globally, yet keeps on top of email with these 7 guidelines:
1. If you want to receive less email, send less email
2. Mark as unread – it allows him to quickly glance through his inbox to respond to time pressing matters
3. Establish a routine – Set a schedule for how and when you deal with your inbox
4. Be precise with your words – Words matter, so chose them carefully to avoid ambiguity and misinterpretation.
5. Give some thought To: the recipients – Use To and Cc appropriately
6. Acknowledge receipt – If you are in the To line
7. Take the combustible stuff offline – Pick up the phone or deal face to face to reintroduce important sub-text that is lost in email