Email Management – part 1

Why Email management is important

The subject of this post is an activity that is common in almost all technical and business jobs, so this article will be beneficial for everyone who uses email in his job extensively.

This activity is one of the most time consuming and critical tasks a project manager do. How to handle your emails really differentiate how others will judge your PM skills.

If a PM comes to his/her meeting, well informed about the meeting subject and up to speed to the latest updates, everyone impression will be that this is a well versed, organized PM. On the other hand everyone will think that the PM is not that good or at least he/she can do better if he/she was caught unprepared on meetings. Managing your emails correctly and effectively is essential for any PM to be prepared in meetings or in any other communication.

I didn’t thought this is a critical issue for many till I discovered how many unread emails some of PMs have, I saw thousands of unread emails in some cases, which will cause a headache for the PM when he/she try to go back and try to figure out what was important , what you really read etc. Another problem also is how some PMs store their emails, like not using any folder and have all emails in one place. So, as I find the subject is an issue for many, I decided to tackle it.

Organization is the key

First of all, you need to have some of your time, may be about 15-30 to manage your emails daily. Usually at start of day and end of day. Of course you need to work on emails during the day, but the maintenance you do at the start/end of your day is crucial to your ability to be on top of emails. Some will say we have all day back to back meetings on a day , so I have to deal with emails next day, and try to only read/reply to critical ones, but the question here, how to know the critical ones, and when the next day comes and more meetings are scheduled and emails are doubled, the problem is only getting worse.

First you need to have an organized email folders. Creating such good effective structure is important. Try to have couple of temp folders for Regular emails (like informational, reports, status etc.), another one for  more important emails (like emails needs some actions on your side or reply, but not critical).

Also you need to create a good structure of folders to store your emails for all your projects and activity. Usually I will put like a folder for each project and a separate one for general/organization/training. For each project, try to create meaningful folders. For example Deliverable folder to store deliverable related emails, inside it you may add folders for each deliverable, like project charter, plan etc. another one for different Teams related emails. Another for Issues, and inside it add issues you encounter to store those issues related emails inside each folder, you may also have a folder to move closed issues to to simplify your view. With such detailed folders to store your emails, you can go back quickly based on the subject you are discussing to search for emails instead of only depending on search which fails sometime to find the needed emails. Please find a sample below. Please note that this is a sample only and you need to have the structure that is more convenient for you. Some like to have yearly folders, others like to have projects folder and move to yearly once it is closed. So please think about how you would like to structure it and built it according to your needs.

mail-list

Sample Folder structure

Steps to manage your emails quickly

So what to do in your start of day email management period. You should do the 4 things below.

  1. Scan quickly all your new emails in your main inbox, and either put in regular temp folder if it is a regular/informational email, or put in important temp folder if it needs action/reply, or leave critical one in main folders. During this step if you can quickly direct the regular only emails to the correct project folder as in step 4, then you should do that, only put in regular folder if it will take sometime to figure this out.
  2. Now go to your critical emails in your main inbox email, do the needed action/reply and move each email once action or reply done to the corresponding folder similar to step 4. Make sure it is moved and its status is read.
  3. After you finished critical emails, go to important temp folder, and work on them one by one. You may choose to delay some of the actions as it needs more time, like updating/creating doc. etc, and allocate a time for that during your day. Only move and make read status (as in 4) for emails you already completed their actions.
  4. Now go and scan your regular folder, it will contains the ones you moved in step 1 (which you couldn’t easily move to correct folders) and also previous older emails that you didn’t have the time to move out yet. Make sure to move each email in one of the folders you created before, for example if it is related to training move it to training folder, if it is related to a project plan of project A, move to folder Project A/Project plan and so on. Make sure the message status is “read”, it is a way of verification, so if you moved something by mistake it will be unread and you can check it later.

Now, usually time may not be enough to cover for all those actions, you can estimate from your experience how long you need to do that, or at least do the first 2 steps and then you can schedule later times in day to do actions related to step 3, and do step 4 if the time in the morning is not enough or you need to attend some meeting etc.

Do the same at end of day, this should cover for any new or remaining emails. Try to leave your desk with your email box clean, no unread emails, nothing in main inbox.

In next post I will discuss in more details how to manage your time to continue your email management during the day.

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