Email Workflow for Making Work out of Email

I receive an average over 100 emails every day and most of them go unread. I try to keep up, but it’s a losing battle. Every 5 minutes a new emails shows up. In a meeting, at lunch, on the phone, trying to answer a previous email, trying to get real work done. Doesn’t matter. It’s non-stop. Ding. Ding. DING. I’ve turned the email notification sound off completely. I’m starting to drop the ball though. Now come the follow up emails, or reminders, or worse…schedule meetings for things that should be emails. I was stuck and needed to find a better way. I came up with an email workflow to combat this issue and so far so good.

Email Is Not for Real Time Communication

Fundamentally, email is not for real time communication. If you’re upset someone didn’t respond to an email you sent 15 minute ago, that’s your fault. Email is for things that can wait roughly a business day. If it’s more urgent than that, use a real time tool like Slack, Skype, or text/call me (I’ll do another post about my phone).

Emails Can Wait…For a Bit

With that foundational aspect, I’m going to take a batch-and-queue process to tackling my issue. First, I’ve created various buffer times to just flip through my emails to identify threads that might be of consequence or require my input. I quickly mark them as “Follow Up => Today” in Outlook, which drops them into my smart folder named “TODO”. This takes me roughly 5-10 minutes to get through and I timebox it to ensure I don’t get down a rabbit hole, answering some emails along the way. I then block out chunks of time on my calendar to go through that TODO list and do one of two things:

  1. Address anything right there that I can
  2. Create an action item in Jira based on the email.
  3. Ignore it completely

All of those result in removal from my batch and out of email all together. I’m currently using a simple Kanban board to visual my general work (work not specific to a product/project but still something I need to do as a manager / employee)

Using a Kanban Board

Using a Kanban board lets me centralize and prioritize what I need to focus on rather than trying to figure out where¬†my work is and in what order do I need to do it when I have time to actually do work. It also gives insights into why someone most people haven’t heard back from me yet (sorry people I’ve ignored, there is no ignored status). If it’s still on the board, it’s not done yet…but it will be.

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