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Neat and Tidy are the Mighty

If you have ever caught a glimpse of one of the TV reality shows about Hoarders then you know how a massive pile of stuff (and this is putting it nicely) can cripple someone’s life.   Your email inbox should be looked at no differently. Imagine it is your home.  Would you leave a mountain of clothes blocking a doorway or stacks of dishes covering the sink? No, you wouldn’t because you need the space to function and live effectively. By keeping your email box crowded and unorganized you are blocking yourself from opportunity, and it is time to make room so you can open a few new doors.

The key to making this change is simple – view your inbox like a “To-Do List”, leaving only items that you need to take action on.  We will circle back to how this in itself is life changing, but first let’s focus on how to get there.  Step one consists of making the time.  We all have our morning routines that help us ease into the day; make organizing your email one of them.  Initially this might sound as appetizing as getting a filling on your lunch break but once you are on board with this system it becomes a 15 minute task.  Do whatever it takes to carve out the time, shut your door, silence your phones, and do not get distracted, this is your time to organize your day.

So you’re ready to attack the mountainous bold lines of text staring back at you; it’s time to get organized.  Microsoft actually does a decent job of explaining this in their article “4 ways to take control of your email Inbox”, where they recommend using the “Four Ds for Decision-Making” model for sorting:

The 4 Ds is a valuable tool for processing email, helping you to quickly decide what action to take with each item and how to remove it from your Inbox.

Delete it- These messages go straight to the can.

Do it- These are items you can complete in less than 2 minutes, do them and continue to sort.

Delegate it- Forward to others then file in a relevant folder or delete.

Defer it- For items that will take more of your time than 2 minutes, leave these in your inbox as your to-do list for later.

Lastly, use a folder system that makes easy sense to you, filing by name, department, topic, etc.  Use a structure that is simple and obvious – avoid over-complicating it.  You should now be left with an inbox of only critical action items that need your attention.  Chip away at this list throughout the day and if you don’t get through it, start with the leftovers first thing tomorrow.  There is a strange satisfaction at the end of the day when you are staring at an empty inbox. It is sort of an “I’m King of the world!” moment, which is a great way to end the day.

When the clutter is clean, this makes room in your business for new energy, new opportunities, new ideas and this is what will keep you energized and more effective at work in 2011.  So come in on a Saturday and spend 2 hours cleaning and then try to maintain it for 1 week.  This spring cleaning could be the key to uncovering an increase in personal productivity.