Decide what to do with each and every message
How many times have you opened, reviewed, and closed the same email message or conversation? Those messages are getting lots of attention but very little action. It is better to handle each email message only once before taking action—which means you have to decide what to do with it and where to put it. Under the 4 Ds model, you have four choices:
- Delete it
- Defer it
- Delegate it
- Do it
Generally, you can delete about half of all the email you get. But some of you shudder when you hear the word “delete.” You’re hesitant to delete messages for fear that you might need them at some point. That’s understandable, but ask yourself honestly: What percentage of information that you keep do you actually use?
If you do use a large percentage of what you keep, your method is working. But many of us keep a lot more than we use. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you decide what to delete:
- Does the message relate to something meaningful you’re currently working on? If not, you can probably delete it. Why hang on to information that doesn’t relate to your main focus?
- Does the message contain information you can find elsewhere? If so, delete it.
- Does the message contain information that you will refer to within the next six months? If not, delete it.
- Does the message contain information that you’re required to keep? If not, delete it.
Outlook 2010 helps you get rid of the “noise” in your Inbox by providing two new commands: Ignore Conversation and Clean Up Conversation. If a conversation is no longer relevant, you can prevent additional responses from appearing in your Inbox. The Ignore command moves the whole conversation and any future messages that arrive in the conversation to the Deleted Items folder.
When a message contains all the previous messages in the conversation, you can click Clean Up to eliminate redundant messages. For example, as people reply to a conversation, the response is at the top and the previous messages in the conversation are below. Use the Clean Up command to keep only the most recent message that includes the whole conversation. For more information, see Use Conversation Clean Up to eliminate redundant messages.
Do it (in less than two minutes)
If you can’t delete it, then ask yourself, “What specific action do I need to take?” and “Can I do it in less than two minutes?” If you can, just do it.
There is no point in filing an email or closing an email if you can complete the associated task in less than two minutes. Try it out—see how much mail you can process in less than two minutes. I think you will be extremely surprised and happy with the results. You could file the message, you could respond to the message, or you could make a phone call. You can probably handle about one-third of your email messages in less than two minutes.
Office 2010 helps you respond to email messages faster. You can view the availability of a person and instantly reach out to them using a variety of communication methods—all on a new easy-to-access contact card. You can even customize the context menu of the contact card to include tasks you perform most often, saving you more time.
If you can’t delete it or do it in two minutes or less, can you delegate it?
If you can delegate it, do so right away. You should be able to compose and send the delegating message in about two minutes. After you delegate the action, delete the original message or move it into your email reference system.
If you cannot delete it, do it in less than two minutes, or delegate it, the action required is something that only you can accomplish and that will take more than two minutes. Because this is your dedicated email processing time, you need to defer it and deal with it after you are done processing your email. You’ll probably find that about 20 percent of your email messages have to be deferred.
There are two things you can do to defer a message: Turn it into an actionable task, or turn it into an appointment. When you’re using Outlook, you can defer emails that require action by dragging the messages to your Task List to turn them into tasks. Name the task to clearly state the required action so that you don’t have to reopen the email message. The result is a clearly defined list of actions on your Task List that you can prioritize and schedule to complete on your Calendar. Or you can turn the message into a meeting request by dragging it to your Calendar.
Tip: Use the To-Do Bar in Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2007 to drag an email message from an email folder to a date on your Calendar or to your Task List. On the Viewtab, in the Layout group, click the To-Do Bar. When the bar appears, drag the message to your Calendar or to your Task List. This copies the message to the new location; it doesn’t move it out of the original mail folder, so you’ll still be able to find what you need.
Use the 4 Ds model every day
Using the 4 Ds model on a daily basis makes it easier to handle a large quantity of email. Our experience shows that, on average, people can process about 100 email messages an hour. If you receive 40 to 100 messages per day, all you need is one hour of uninterrupted email processing time to get through your Inbox. Our statistics show that of the email you receive:
- 50 percent can be deleted or filed.
- 30 percent can be delegated or completed in less than two minutes.
- 20 percent can be deferred to your Task List or Calendar to complete later.
Of course, if you have a backlog of hundreds of messages, it will take time to get to the point where your daily routine keeps you up to date. It’s important to get that backlog down, so I would suggest setting blocks of time aside to work through it. Then, you can really enjoy processing your messages every day using the 4 Ds.
If you require any help or training to use Microsoft Outlook, we offer
- Live on-line 2 hour training sessions delivered straight to your desktop via a Virtual Classroom.
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