On our work blog, we’ve begun a category called “Modest Proposals” (thanks, Rory!) where we list thing things we are learning about managing. I kicked it off today with a note about managing email:

Normally, I have one email in my inbox. No, really.

Every morning, I come in and glance at a small post-it stuck to my monitor (and I’m not the only one, though I think I do it differently) that holds a short list of the things I do every morning:

  • Email
  • Helpdesk
  • Newsgroups
  • Inbox
  • Tada list
  • Projects

When I hit that first item, I go to Lotus Notes, mark everything in my mailbox unread, and go through it note by note. If I can handle it in ten minutes or less, I just do it. That clears out most things. If it’s information on something pending, it goes in a Waiting folder. If it’s something I must keep, it gets filed. If it’s something that’s going to take a while, it gets transferred to my task system. This leaves my mailbox uncluttered so I can handle things more easily throughout the day.

But what about that last email? It’s kittens. Yeah, I admit it. Kittens. I don’t remember where I got the idea, but I suspect it was this wonderful business writer. The trick is you keep a motivational email at the end of your mailbox. A picture of your kids, your pets, a beautiful sunset, or even kittens. It’s difficult to sell this idea, it’s something that must be experienced. When I get to the end of my mailbox, the final motivational email makes it very clear I’ve done so–it’s a clear demarcation that means I can stop going through email and move on to the next thing on my list, and it’s a stress-buster as well. I’ve had a motivational email at the bottom of my mailbox for over a year now, and I can say with confidence that it’s very effective.

So, in a nutshell:

It’s easier to keep up with email than it is to catch up. Once a day, clear everything out. A clutter-free mailbox is much, much easier to deal with. And get some kittens.

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