English: email envelope

English: email envelope (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If there’s one thing I don’t have a lot of these days, it’s time to work. It’s a common problem for all of us, each for our own reasons. How can we get more work done when we seem to have less time than ever?

I’ve had to rethink a lot of things these last few weeks, particularly how I work. It’s taken a lot of trial and error but I’ve found some tweaks in my routine that have made a real difference in how much work I get done with the little time I have. I thought I’d share some of these with you in a little series.

Here’s my first tip:

Go through your entire inbox before you answer a single email.

Seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? I know I always used to just attack emails as they came in, replying and addressing emails one by one until I got to the end of my inbox (if I ever did). But making this one simple change has drastically reduced the amount of time I spend on emails overall while making me more efficient. Instead of working my way through my inbox right from the start, now I just scan my inbox in the morning on my mobile and only start to address individual emails later when I get to my computer.

Here’s why going through the whole thing first works better:

  • Get rid of the junk, leave only the meat. No  matter how much you’ve whittled down your mailing lists, there are always a few emails that just require a scan, a filter, a tag or a delete. You can deal with all of these in this quick once-over and handle them as needed until only the real emails, the ones that require your attention, are left. Not only does this clean up your inbox quickly, it also gives you a feeling of accomplishment in very little time which is a very nice way to start your day.
  • You have the whole picture before you act on anything. In the past, I would frequently write up an email only to realize that another email elsewhere in my inbox made that reply invalid. I’d not only waste the time it took to write the first email but I’d need to then write up a second email to add the new information. Now I’m completely up to date before I type a single word so I spend less time spinning my wheels.
  • Considered, better responses. Used to be that I’d get an email and fire off a reply right then. Think of all the ways that could backfire. Maybe that email makes me angry and I fire off a flame message that could mean problems for me later. Maybe I’d write up a knee-jerk response and only later realize I misread the message. Or maybe I just think of a much better reply an hour after I sent the email.  Now sometimes an hour or more elapses between when I read the emails and when I respond to them giving me time to mull any responses over. When I eventually sit down to write replies, not only are these better thought out, they’re often faster to write since I’ve mentally written them already. (As for emails that require a response right that second, just waiting the few minutes it takes me to go through the rest of my inbox before replying makes for a better answer, I find.)
  • Nothing gets overlooked. The problem with dealing with individual emails as they come in is that there are always those messages that never seem to get dealt with. Maybe you never noticed that message at all before it was buried under a barrage of new messages or maybe it just wasn’t the highest priority so it was never addressed. Reading through everything first makes sure nothing is missed and going through the whole thing daily keeps those unanswered emails in your mind making it more likely that you’ll eventually either answer or commit to finally deleting them.

What tips would you add to make the process of going through your inbox more efficient?