Handling email

Writing that post on writing, and the interest it seems to have generated, made me think of other things I do that help with efficiency. Back before I had a blog, I sent Graham Harman an email about how I handle email, which he posted up on his site. His link to my writing post made me think of that, so here it is. You can find the original here.

The recent post on emails was interesting. When I took over as editor of Society and Space and became director of postgrad studies at Durham at the same time, I had to get email better in order. Here’s basically how I work.

I keep nothing in my inbox. The only messages in there are ones I have never seen.

I have lots of email folders – not just for filing, but for action. There is Action – for things I need to deal with asap; Action (office); (home); (library); (print); (to review); ones for specific projects, etc…

So when I check email, I do basically a triage kind of operation. What can be deleted or immediately filed away; what can I deal with in a couple of minutes or so – do that immediately; and the rest get sorted into folders for what kind of thing they are – do I need to be in a particular place to deal with them; are they related to a particular project; etc. – or the general Action folder.

Then if a message is in an Action folder, I need to do something with it. Once it’s been dealt with, the message gets filed. Especially for things like the journal I have folders for me to action but also a ‘pending others’ folder – waiting for author, journal manager, referees, co-editors, etc.

It’s not perfect, but it makes for a much more efficient system. Takes a bit of time to set up and get used to, but saves loads of time when running properly, and also I very rarely miss stuff.

There is a vice-chancellor whose motto is ‘I never want to see the same piece of paper twice’. Well I see most emails twice – the initial sort; then usually the later action. But I suppose if I had a PA I could cut the first stage. Basically this avoids the ‘formulate a response but not write it’ problem – if I have taken the time to think about a response, I’m already writing it.

Now some people will recognise this is similar to the Getting Things Done model. It is. Back in late 2006, in Chicago O’Hare airport I picked up a copy of the book, which I then read on the flight to New York JFK. (Another time-management tip – I’d decided the book was worth the flight and waiting time, no more, before I read it, so I then read it at a speed that would allow me to finish it in that time.) There were about three or four things in the book that I thought would be useful, that I didn’t already do. I still do all but one, and plan to return to using that when I go back to teaching in October.

A non-academic friend, who is a successful IT manager and consultant, says he can gauge people’s efficiency by the state of their in-box. I think there is a lot in that.

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2 Responses to Handling email

  1. Pingback: Email triage | Progressive Geographies

  2. Pingback: Some excellent advice on writing good emails – and the wonder of SaneBox | Progressive Geographies

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