I remember when email first arrived in the workplace. It wasn’t accessible for every employee, only those who “needed” it. And everyone wanted it.
Eventually all employees were given their own corporate email address. We signed up for our own personal emails as well. Then a funny thing happened. Our inboxes began to explode with incoming mail. At first it seemed manageable, but as this amazing technology took hold, it quickly became overwhelming and began negatively impacting personal productivity at the office.
Today, when you ask people about their inbox, they often have a love-hate relationship with it. They like it for quick communication. But they hate trying to manage the overload of messages and information coming at them. I can completely relate!
When I worked corporately, I was always shocked by the state of my executives’ inboxes. Hundreds, even thousands of emails – some read, others unread; some stored in multiple places, others weeks (or even months!) old. I was always on top of my inbox back then, and if I could manage, why couldn’t they?
When I started my own business, I got my answer. As a virtual assistant, I was managing up to 10 different email accounts for various projects, and I wasn’t keeping up nearly as well as I would have liked. The more I grew my business, the more emails I received – and the more emails I got, the harder it was to sort through them. Before I knew it, my inbox was overflowing, and I was overwhelmed just thinking about it.
I needed help, so I took a proactive approach. I sought out books and training on email management. I asked experts for tips. I discovered best practices. And it helped – for a bit. But inevitably, I would lose control of my inbox, get frustrated, and fall right back into my old, bad habits. It was a vicious cycle that I couldn’t seem to break, no matter how hard I tried.
Then I found productivity expert and Microsoft Outlook trainer Laura Stack, who introduced me to a much more effective way of managing my workflow in Outlook and helped me uncover some lesser known features of the program. Adjusting many of Outlook’s default settings, customizing key features, and implementing a new way of handling my incoming email totally improved the ease and efficiency of managing my inbox.
Empowered by this knowledge, I hit reset on my strategy for email management.
Part of the challenge with my inbox was creating good habits and applying discipline to the process. When I’m disciplined about my inbox management daily, I am successful in processing email out of my inbox. When I lose focus, or don’t allow enough time to recover after a busy project period or upon my return from being out of the office, I struggle to get caught back up.
When a change in personal behavior is required, there’s no quick fix, unfortunately. So, I enlisted the support of a productivity and organization coach to hold me accountable and help me efficiently navigate the process. The result was a clean inbox for processing mail (not storing it), the knowledge on how to use Outlook to its fullest potential, and the best practices I share with you in this week’s feature article.
After a longstanding struggle with my inbox, I can tell you that an empty inbox is achievable. It is sustainable. And you can do it! But you will need to change how you think about your inbox and task management. You will also need to create a new system for how you manage your inbox, and that system has to include a task and project management component so you process email out of your inbox and into that system.
You’ll probably need to hit reset more than once as you work to create new habits and overcome this struggle. But the feeling of relief and control that you experience on the other side of it is worth every ounce of effort you put forth!
Supporting your administrative success,
P.S. Need help hitting reset on your inbox? This training on demand webinar is the perfect solution: Maximize Your Productivity by Mastering Workflow with Microsoft Outlook. Learn more and catch a ten minute sneak peek at how it works when you click here.