When it comes to enemies of productivity, it’s likely your inbox is suspect 1, 2 and 3. As a major drain on your time, it not only impedes your progress, but can often throw you off-track altogether. So, it’s important to have a game plan to tackle the obstructive and irritating nuisance that is email management.

Let’s take a look at a few options at your disposal:

3-21-0

We all know the benefits of ‘gamification’ – the process of turning something dull and monotonous into something enjoyable through a slight change of mindset. This is what the 3-21-0 approach taps into. The idea is you only check your inbox 3 times a day, so all notifications/alerts need to be off. From here, you’re aiming to spend no more than 21 minutes managing your inbox across the 3 sessions, and in that time, you need to clear it down to zero. Easier said than done though, right? However, when you’ve got an objective and the motivation to power through, it’s amazing how much more you can achieve in a short time frame. Rather than tackling the issue in a piecemeal way, you’re choosing to let your emails stack and then attacking the pile all at once. This way, you’re not breaking up the time you’re committing to other tasks and you’re taking control of the time you spend managing the horde. This gives you greater opportunity to focus on the tasks that really matter and reduces the stalking frustration often caused by relentless emails.

To see success in this approach, you need a system that enhances your productivity in managing your inbox. This is where the 7 D’s can help.

The 7 D system is a categorisation approach that helps prioritize and clarify what needs actioning when. This ensures time-specific communications are still responded to and helps to reduce the unnecessary time spent on useless clutter.

Here are the 7 categories you need to consider when reviewing your inbox:

Priority 1:

Delete

Mainly spam and promotions, but there’ll also be a few emails you can quickly read and delete. For unwanted promotional material, take the time to go beyond deletion – spend a week unsubscribing from every one of those communications. Your future-self will thank you. If you really need the information, chances are you’ll find it on Google.

 

Priority 2:

Delegate

In many instances, it’s best to move the management of the issue at hand onto a more relevant owner. Identify what you don’t need to do yourself, and for those high-profile items, pass on and request future visibility of progress. Delete or file emails in this category as necessary.
Priority 3:

Defer

What items can others do better with their skillset? Sometimes its best just to step aside, and often, that’s typically a sign for the best party for the job to step up. These emails can often be deleted or filed if necessary.
Priority 4:

Do

With the 3 categories above removed, there should now only be a few items remaining in your inbox, and hopefully these are where you can add the most value. You should prioritize these emails and action the highest value items first.
Priority 5:

Digest

These are the items that you need to be aware of, but do not require any action (more like FYIs). After reading these, you need to either delete or file depending on what works for you.
Priority 6:

Done

With the majority of emails sorted, the remains should be quick and easy responses and items you’ve already actioned. Typically, these are filed for recollection at a later date.
Priority 7:

Document

Finally, you need to ensure the right emails are in the right place, and so you need a simple, easy-to-use structured archive. Mine is broken into 2 main areas:

– Client accounts (being a marketing agency and service provider) e.g. Client A, Client B

– Category areas e.g. Internal – Planning, Internal – Finance

 

 

With this system in place, sweeping your inbox 3 times a day should give you the opportunity to get it down to zero. File emails into the above, and all you should be left to action are the few items sitting in your ‘Do’ pile. Get these scheduled and prioritized in your workflow accordingly, and you can then leave your inbox in peace.

Following this system, I typically end most days with a quick sweep of all D folders (except Document) looking for these things in particular

  • To delete or move emails to the ‘Document’ folder from other areas as tasks have progressed or completed by team members throughout the day.
  • To review the ‘Do’ folder and clear the actions I need to do as a priority or over the coming days.
  • To clean the ‘Done’ folder so it isn’t just a dumping ground.

Automate the personal, keep an eye on the professional

Finally, on top of this approach, I also use simple email rules to minimize the yield that requires management. However, this only applies to my personal inboxes, not my professional. Business-wise, it’s much harder for me to pre-emptively identify by sender or topic the items that need to be passed on or managed by myself. As such, I like to keep an eye on it personally. In my personal inboxes, I just use simple rules to file by category e.g. Property investment, property management, tax, receipts etc.