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The Four Stages of Inbox Management

We’ve all been there. A few days off. Important meetings to attend. A special project we’ve been working on. And then returning to your inbox to find an endless stream of emails and appointment requests.

There is a way to avoid having to fire fight your inbox. Using four simple stages to help manage your inbox can give you complete control of your inbox, giving you more time to focus on developing your business.

So what are these four stages and what do they mean.

1.   File: move your email to a folder so that you can return to it when you have time

We all receive more emails than we really need to. Maybe some could be deleted, but the day sometimes comes when you wish you hadn’t hit that dreaded key. A better option would be to move the email to a suitable and relevant folder.

The majority of email clients allow you to easily set up a number of specific folders. Taking advantage of these folders allows you to organise your inbox quickly and easily. If using Microsoft Outlook 2010, try creating rules that automatically direct incoming mail to a specific folder that you can look at later.

We’re not saying that you should never delete an email. But creating a structured filing system can do wonders for your inbox management. And help safeguard your sanity.

2.   Flag: highlight the email for later action

If the time it would take to fulfil an email is more than you have available, then you can flag it for future attention. You can return to it when you’ve got through the most immediate tasks on your list. For now, though, we just need to get them out of the way because they take your attention away from your immediate priorities. So they’re best saved for tomorrow or later in the day.

3.   Forward: delegate the task by forwarding it to the person who should take action

If you can’t fulfil the email quickly, can you forward it to a team member who can take care of the task for you?

If it’s possible to delegate the task, forward it on right away. Aim to compose and send the message to your colleague promptly. After you have forwarded the message, delete the original message or move it into another folder.

4.   Fulfil: take action to complete and resolve the issue immediately

If you can fulfil the email quickly, first ask yourself “What specific action do I have to take?” and “How long will it take me?”. If possible, get it done there and then. Completing the action and resolving the issue immediately helps your inbox stay tidy, clean and manageable. If you can, just do it.

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