Catching Up on Email

If there is one thing that can ratchet up your stress levels after returning from vacation, it’s opening your email to see what you missed. Several methods exist to help you sort through the pile. I’ll share them in their order of effectiveness, from most to least.

Super Organized: Using Rules and Folders

Some folks are organized to an uncanny degree. They’ve read every Steven Covey book and can tell you what their calendar looks like on any random Thursday two years from now.

I am not that person.

However, if you aspire to achieve such levels of coordination, you can likely attend or schedule a training event in your area. The Franklin Covey class helps you sort out your priorities, because if everything is a priority, nothing is.

Knowing your priorities, you can set up your folders and incoming message rules so that you can read your message queue in priority order, with your top-priority messages directed to your “AA” folder (Franklin Covey orders folders by letter to ensure they appear in priority order–this is not the Alcoholics Anonymous folder). Secondary priorities would go into your BB folder; tertiary priorities head for CC, etc.

Your priorities/email rules could be sorted by topic, sender, or some other method. Talk to the Franklin Covey people if that’s your thing.

My Method

My personal method is a bit more laid back.

    I look for messages from my immediate supervisor tagged IMPORTANT or URGENT first because those usually require action on my part.
    Other URGENT items from a generic corporate email addresses come next. These might require action or might just be informational (“Power is out at X site”).
    Next come questions or answers from subject matter experts.
    Lastly, there is everything else.
  • If the inbox is seriously crowded, I might clear out the junk emails (advertisements, office party announcements, out-of-date notices, etc.) first.
  • Most Recent First

    If I don’t have any “URGENT” emergencies clamoring for my attention, I will start with the most recent messages first snd work backward. The advantage of this approach is that I can see what the latest office news is. I can also avoid responding to situations that have already been resolved.

    Chronological Order

    The advantage of checking your messages from oldest to newest is that you can respond to the people who have been waiting the longest (first in, first out). The disadvantage of this approach is that you might find yourself responding to out-of-date or already-resolved queries, cluttering up your inbox (and others’) unnecessarily.

    Bottom Line

    It’s good to have SOME system in place for addressing emails. Even if you’re not super organized, know your priorities can help you make the best use of your time when confronting an overloaded inbox. May the odds be ever in your favor.

    About Bart Leahy

    Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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    1 Response to Catching Up on Email

    1. Larry Kunz says:

      Definitely, start by sorting on Sender, so you can handle messages from your supervisor(s) first.

      Then, sort on Subject. It’s amazing how many email chains start with an urgent issue, wend their way along for a while, and end with a resolution that everyone’s happy with. For those chains, you can just read the most recent email – the one with the resolution – and toss the others en masse. It’s a very satisfying feeling. 🙂

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