I was speaking with a college friend recently. He has been very successful in his field of work, but he noted that he is very disorganized. He told me that he has a work email inbox with hundreds of unread emails. His revelation triggered me to wonder, as adults and professionals, is there an ideal way to manage the flood of information from various forms of communication? Emails, text messages, IMs, social media posts, news articles, personal finance updates, etc... How do we stay on top of all of it? After years of working on complex programs alongside stakeholders from multiple firms, I can attest to the challenges of managing an overflowing inbox. While there is an element of personal preference in keeping organized, I’ve found that at a bare minimum, I need some methodology in place to stay ahead. Below are three methods that I have used to attempt to stay on top of these myriad forms of communication:
1. Time Boxing
I set aside time each morning to go through my overnight emails, socials, news feed(s), finances, etc... I will try to do the same midday and at some point, in the evening. Obviously, time boxing can be challenging for people with more morning or evening responsibilities. It is critical to put structure and time limits for catch-up activities so that you do not spiral. Another useful option is to “snooze” non-essential conversations during the workday to reduce distractions. While not necessarily applicable this year with limited commuting, I know many people use their commutes to and from work to complete these catch-ups. Some will argue that multitasking is more efficient, however, as this study notes, multitasking is actually less efficient than focusing on a single task at a time.
2. Embedding Prioritization
I use Outlook and IOS contact favorites to help organize my email and review and act on the most pressing emails. On a recent project, I was part of a business as usual team (BAU) that utilized an email distribution list for messages from their client. Most, if not all, of those emails weren’t relevant for me, so I created a mail rule that directed emails to that distribution list to a special folder so as to not clutter my inbox and to allow myself to review those emails at a later time. Another tool I have used to prioritize emails is to designate several personal and professional contacts as VIPs on my phone. This designation groups emails from VIPs into a special VIP folder. When I check my emails, I start with the VIP folder before moving into my inbox. Steps for adding a VIP here.
3. List Making
Some people create lists in an “old school” manner with pen and paper. I choose to use Notes on my phone, because physical sheets of paper are more easily moved, misplaced, thrown away, or don’t make it into my travel bag. There are websites (Note.ly, Anotepad.com, Shrib.com, Simplenote) and apps (Evernote, MS OneNote, Google Keep) that can assist with list creation and tracking as well. Lists help me organize and prioritize my myriad of competing priorities both professionally and personally.
On any given day, I receive over 150 personal and professional emails and likely close to that many texts or IMs. Sifting through all those communications can get overwhelming very quickly. Utilizing the methods above, I can keep my head above water most days. I would enjoy hearing from you about tips and tricks you use to process all the communication you receive.