I can’t claim to be the fastest follow-up on email. There are all kinds of circumstances which prevent me from getting all of the emails in my inbox cleared out, not the least of which is that sorting email tends to take a second priority to just about everything else in business. Sometimes it can take weeks for me to respond to mail.
I haven’t ever declared email “bankruptcy” however. Email bankruptcy is the practice of throwing your hands up in the air, tossing out the email inbox and starting over. Nor have I resorted to the latest tactic that people are using — autoresponders with a message that says “I only answer email between these hours”.
The technique I use is borrowed from a friend of mine with a military background. He hated the way his paper files would balloon, so he used this simple technique. At the end of each month, he boxed up all of his paperwork, taped the box shut, and wrote the date on the outside of each box. If the box hadn’t been reopened in 12 months, it was clear that the contents were unnecessary, and he simply shipped them off for shredding.
Once every month or so, I move all of the email in my inbox that is older than one month into a folder called deferred. It’s still in Outlook. It’s still indexed. If you write me and ask about a particular thing that I haven’t responded to, I can still find it. And six months later I just move the whole deferred folder to the trash. If we haven’t talked about whatever you wrote me about in six months it’s probably not important, right?
I ditched over 8,000 unread mail messages that way a couple of weeks ago.
Next, I read the remaining messages using “conversation view”. That way I can simply read the last mail in the thread, respond and delete the rest. It’s fast, and very efficient. It’s even faster, more efficient and easier on the wrist if you ditch the mouse and learn to use the keyboard shortcuts in Outlook — CTRL-R to reply, CRTL-SHIFT-V to file, DEL to delete.
In the last two days I’ve chewed through nearly 2,000 emails. I’ve thrown several thousand more into the deferred bin. And I’m looking at an inbox with just 53 items remaining.
So what do you do?