Cubicle Warrior E-mail Tip: Process E-Mail

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Jan 15

There are multiple perspectives on working with e-mail. Let’s face it, e-mail is the tool of choice for most people to get work done when collaborating with others. Given the global nature of our work these days, this should not come as a surprise as e-mail transcends the different time zones we work in. And one has to love the ability to attach stuff to the email, right? Or not…

There are multiple issues in working with e-mail, letting the tool become the time waster and preventing one from working on high priority tasks.

The deal is, e-mail is seductive. “Oh, there’s something in my inbox. Let me check it out.” And when you do check it out, it becomes the next thing that you take care of in your work day. Whether it is the right thing to be working on at the time or not. Or the most important thing to be working on at the time.

Get a hundred e-mails a day (about my average) and pretty soon you’re working on a hundred things that may or may not be important to your job.

To be an effective Cubicle Warrior, one has to get control over how e-mail is worked. There has to be some thought around e-mail as a tool and not just as something to be watched and worked ad hoc.

Scot’s Cubicle Warrior tip: Process E-mail.

Processing e-mail means that you figure out what is in the e-mail, put the e-mail into the right bucket, delete it, and move on. The fundamental thing here is that e-mail should not be how you organize and manage your day.

David Allen has this thing in Getting Things Done called the “Two Minute” rule. He even has a little two-minute timer clock that you can buy and click on when processing e-mail (yes, I own it…what can I say?).

The intent of the two-minute timer is that in that allotted time, you will need to determine what should be done with that e-mail you are reading. If there is something in the e-mail that you now have to do, create a task from the e-mail (including, perhaps, adding the e-mail to the task for reference), delete the e-mail, and move on.

If the e-mail has nothing that needs to be done, delete it. If the e-mail would be a reference for something, file it as reference. If there is something that needs to be delegated, delegate the task and delete the e-mail.

The idea is that e-mail should be processed, just like take-aways from a meeting are processed. One doesn’t DO the tasks created in the meeting during the meeting, but instead, the tasks are documented and then done later. The same should happen with e-mail.

Once the e-mail is processed in this manner, you can look at your tasks and figure out the next important thing to be working. Rather than working on the next thing in your e-mail inbox.

  • Scot Herrick says:

    Paul…yes, I too am a Getting Things Done fan. Even though I fall off the wagon quite a bit, it is a very good process to do — and then accomplish. Thanks for the comment!

  • Paul Jones says:

    Great post, Scot. Email rules many of our days, but shouldn't! I like to think of it as “first process, then do.” I process into three “action” mail folders, for actioning later: A (must do), B (should do), C (nice to do).

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