The 3 D’s of Managing Your Inbox: Delete, Delegate, or Deal With It

Everyone is familiar with the feeling of looking at your inbox and seeing about 40 unread messages that arrived while you were away at a meeting or other engagement. A massive number of emails in your inbox is a stress producer. I have three tips to help reduce that stress.

I call it the three D’s of email. I have learned to use my inbox as my ‘To Do’ list. For years I found myself moving email around, writing lists (even electronic lists) of what needed to be done to manage my day. Then I found a system that seems to work for me.

First, I don’t try to answer every email that arrives throughout the day. I select certain times of the day to handle emails. When I read an email I look at it and decide if I can delete it and then do so quickly if that is an option. In the past, I felt the need to reply to just about everything and now I realize that it’s not necessary, particularly for someone in a managerial role. So Delete is the first ‘D’.

Next I determine if the item can be Delegated, the second ‘D’. You would be surprised how many items fall into this category. I once read ‘you can work on your business or in your business, but not both’ so I encourage those of you that own businesses or manage them to heed this advice and learn to delegate.

In order for this to work, there should be an expectation that the item once delegated is handled and no further communication is needed. Too many messages go around with just ‘Done’ or ‘I’ll take care of it’. Of course if there is an issue with it being completed within the defined, expected timeframe, additional communication may be needed. Once delegated, you can delete the message. It is not really necessary to save it because you have a record of the delegation in your Sent items folder.

Then that leaves the third category of messages, those you must deal with. You should try to deal with any that you can at that moment. This seems like it might take a few more minutes than you have, but sometimes you find it does not take as long as anticipated or once you start to deal with it, you realize you can delegate it. This can be very freeing because your inbox will shrink quickly.

Once the item is handled, you delete if it really has no permanent value or you can file it in the appropriate client folder, staff folder or other area. Sometimes you cannot handle it right away, but it will remain in your Inbox for when you have time to perform the task associated with the email.

To some this may seem like an over simplification, but I encourage you to try it for a while. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the results. And of course, if you have any tips to share to further enhance the process, please do so.

This requires a mindset of less hoarding, which can be difficult for many. Remember there is a cost to keeping every message received. It also requires you to continually ask ‘Why not?’ as you Delete, Delegate or Deal with the messages.

Remember, technology induced freedom is just around the corner!