Organising my email

turn to clear vision
I receive a lot of email. I’m often asked about managing email. So, I thought I’d share my approach and some interesting things I’ve come across in the past that you might like to try (or not).

DisclaimerI don’t class this as best or good practice, it just works for me.

My approach

  1. I have a folder dedicated to every project I’m working on. When a new project comes on board a new folder gets created. I’m very organised and find it very easy to place messages using this approach.
    1. My naming convention is simple—the official project title. No acronyms or any of that crap which reminds me to use the full title when speaking about them publicly.
    2. To help with ordering and being able to quickly find things I usually prefix the project title with the lead organisation’s name e.g. infoNet A, infoNet B, Jisc A, Jisc B, UCISA A, UCISA B, etc.
  2. I commute to work, which takes between 30-60mins. I spend five minutes deleting rubbish and skimming my messages on my way in. Important messages remain in my inbox. Other emails are stored in an appropriate folder.
  3. I take another look at the important messages I’ve received when I arrive at work. Anything that requires further action is added to my to-do list (I use Wunderlist). The majority of emails can then be stored, I’m sometimes left with messages that are a bit left-field.
  4. With regards to point 3, I have three obscure folders for storing information:
    1. Queries. I work for an advisory service and so receive various queries from across the UK education space;
    2. For information. Where I store useful information received relating to my role/areas of interest;
    3. and Appraisal. I store feedback here which I use to shape up my appraisal documentation.
  5. I archive my email about once a year by saving my inbox (and sub-folders) as a .pst file. Then I start my folders afresh.

Instant messaging

I would also strongly urge anyone to think seriously about what they use to communicate with others. At the time of writing Skype is my preferred instant messaging tool and I use that for quick questions I know won’t take up too much of someone’s time. I also prefer using it to make calls because it gives me the freedom to make notes. I do think that my use of Skype reduces the amount of emails I receive. I make myself available via Skype because I prefer to solve something there and then rather than having to manage an email so to speak.

Of interest

Some of the following have worked for me, some haven’t but you might find them interesting!

Managing interruptions

Burned-out car
We live in a fast-paced multi-channel world. Temptation to procrastinate is bad enough; interruptions are downright obtrusive. It’s an issue that often crops up in conversation with colleagues and peers so I decided to pull together some hints and tips based upon my own experience and common suggestions across a range of productivity websites. In no particular order:

  • Limit your availability through certain communication channels and make sure your team/peers and others are aware of this.
  • Let people know when you’re free and when you’re not by sharing your calendar—“Busy” is not really an appropriate entry ;)
  • Set constraints where you can’t avoid interruptions i.e. warn the person you only have five minutes to discuss something because you have a key deadline to meet.
  • Choose your time wisely—work on important pieces of work when you’re least likely to be interrupted.
  • Plan for the interruptions—give yourself more time to achieve key tasks.
  • Lead by example. When interrupting others always start by asking whether or not they have time for a quick chat.
  • Automate your own systems to save time and make your life easier e.g. set rules within your email client to manage incoming mail.
  • Choose your location wisely—if you don’t need to work at your desk then don’t especially if it minimises the risk of interruption.

Avoid burning yourself out, and look after yourself! I hope you find this list useful, please share your tips via the comments :)