I often struggle with maintaining an optimal level of organization throughout my work days. I’m easily distracted — particularly by new e-mail messages — and can lose hours of precious work time reading incoming e-mails and the assortment of accompanying attachments and Web links. Other times, I log into my e-mail network to send a quick message only to feel overwhelmed by the vast quantity of unread or neglected e-mails waiting for me. Next thing I know, it’s quitting time and I haven’t achieved many of my goals for the day.
Imagine my excitement when, for a work project, I had to read a book addressing online journalism that just happened to dedicate a whole chapter on digital organization. Finally, the answers to my inefficient work methods were being handed right to me — literally! Through this book, I learned of a Web site called Getting Things Done, which was founded by David Allen.
One of Allen’s best suggestions, in my opinion at least, is to spend no more than two minutes on each e-mail, whether replying, filing, or deleting the message. If you can’t respond to the e-mail in two minutes, Allen recommends filing it into a folder. However, this organizational approach only works if you already have established a detailed folder system so you can quickly and efficiently determine which folder is most appropriate and then — here’s the important part — remember to return to that e-mail for the necessary follow-up action.
I have always aimed to respond quickly to messages that require an immediate reply and often succeed at achieving that goal. It’s the follow-up that I struggle to remember, sometimes leaving my messages unanswered for long, inappropriate amounts of time. To remedy such a problem, Allen suggests creating a “waiting on” folder for storing e-mails that you can’t reply to until you receive additional information, and a “read this” folder for storing e-mails that contain attachments or more information than can be read in two minutes. You can go back to those when you have time or print them out to read later.
Well, I took this concept and ran with it, creating several additional folders for e-mails addressing subject areas about which I write, each freelance project I have worked on, each client I work with, and new ideas for future projects, among others. By setting up all these topic-specific folders, I know exactly where to place all my messages that I want to save – and they don’t clog up my inbox. I can now call up any one of them at a moment’s notice, if needed.
Allen’s overall goal is to look at each e-mail message only once, thus saving time, energy, and productivity. I have implemented this method in my own daily work routine and, so far, it has been working like a charm. I have even started to carve out time in the mornings and late afternoons to read the e-mails I place in various folders throughout the day. Now, I’m able to focus my attention on the required work at hand, while still taking breaks to read all the formerly neglected messages I receive. Hopefully, these tips can help alleviate some disorganization in your daily work days too!