Easy Steps to Help You Manage Your Overloaded Inbox

Need a Vacation Now That You’re Back from Vacation?

Now that you are getting settled back in t your office, there was probably a mountain of e-mail, voicemail or paper awaiting you when you walked in yesterday.

Customized Priority/Task Flags
Photo by Peter G McDermott

How is it going so far?

Coming back to the office after a vacation or the holidays can be a real shock to your system. It can easily feel like all of the benefits of your vacation have been negated by the amount of pressure on your shoulders from when you first walk in the door on your first day back.

Don’t let it. The whole point of your time off is to solidify your work-life balance. If you are spending 14 hours a day working (one way or another) and 8 hours sleeping, you’re only giving yourself 2 hours to relax.

If you still have that mountain of e-mail in your inbox, take a moment to analyze the importance of each message and figure out what is most important to tackle first (due to an impending deadline or an inquiring customer) and what can be done later (items that are months away from completion).

Programs like Microsoft Outlook offer “flags” to allow you to color-code your messages. Did you know that you can also change the title that accompanies these flags? Instead of naming the flags by the color, give them a purpose.

My flags are High Priority (Red), Medium Priority (Orange), Low Priority (Yellow), Delegated (Green), Review/Verify (Blue) and Awaiting Reply (Purple). By being able to quickly and easily designate what action needs to be taken on my messages I am able to sort them into their appropriate account folder. Later, I can easily view them in my “Flagged Items” search folder.

With this system I know that I am keeping everything organized and will have the most important tasks to be completed right at my fingertips. Furthermore, I have set my e-mail client so that any reply or forward messages associated with a “filed” message will stay in the associated folder. That way all my communications stay in the folder associated with their account.

Once everything is organized I work hard to ensure that I get rolling on the completion of tasks. For me, this means getting a few quick and easy ones out of the way, in order to get the ball rolling. Remember that blue flag for Review/Verify? There are a number of messages that I get every day that need a very quick review to see if there is any information pertanent to my projects. Once I glance over these messages I can quickly file them, forward them or simply discard them.

After I have gone through a few of these quick tasks, I’ll focus on more timely projects which I have designated as “high priority.” If I ever find myself stuck, or distracted, I’ll try to find a few more of the simple messages that can be quickly acted upon to keep the momentum rolling.

With a little bit of organization you can definitely lower your stress, keep things manageable, easily find past conversations and eventually achieve the ultimate goal of Inbox: Zero.

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