E-Mail Stress-Reduction

This blog takes you ten minutes to read. It is the result of a conversation with a friend of mine. She has a home-office based job. She is an international project manager in the field of medical testing. My friend told me, that she was starting to sleep badly, and has started to feel extremely worried by opening the computer in the morning as then the whole situation was present on the computer again. Have a look what I proposed to here: 

I will show you the Best Practice Email Management for project leaders looking to increase stress-free productivity. There are two main aspects to this: What to do with previous emails? What to do with your current inbox? How to make email and calendars work together like a dream team. I assume you have Microsoft Outlook 2013/2016.

1)    What to do with the past – meaning the full e-mail inbox?

First, you should create a subfolder on your server in which you can simply drag your previous emails. Label subfolders by Year_Month (e.g. 2015_12) or by client/project name (that is how I do it).

Then take the emails after a certain cut-off date and drag them as they are, unsorted, with scrap, onto the hard drive.

To search for them and find them at a later date, you can simply use your standard text-search program.

This way, you can remove all the load of the past from Outlook. Also, your emails will be much safer on the server than in your Outlook inbox.

2)    What to do with the inbox?
Now about the inbox. Be courageous and take on a goal that seems pretty crazy to you. An inbox that is empty at the end of every work day. Would that not be relaxing? Awesome... isn’t it? I guarantee that it works if you do the following:

Rule 1: Every email in the inbox will only be read once and immediately processed (what this means exactly will be explained later on, please be patient ;-)
Rule 2: Only read emails 4x a day, for example for 15 minutes and then process each email. Exception is working with the e-Mail in a project. For this, I reserve more time. 
Rule 3: While working on a project, if you write and send an email, do NOT read any other emails. According to brain researchers in the US, every interruption while working – in other words, every time you restart a thought process for a subject – requires a lot of energy and slows everyone down. No matter how much yoga you practiced.

Please create three subfolders in your inbox so that you can directly process every email during each of the 4 times you process emails: 


Now the approach:

You open the inbox (in which you only have the last few emails since the last time you closed Outlook) and process each email with the following decisions. You always make this decision immediately. Then you can make sure that everything is well-placed. I find it annoying if I know that there was something I did not prioritize properly. What about you?

1) Immediately take care of emails that you can answer within a maximum of 2 minutes.

2) Immediately enter emails that concern a project and result in more work, but you already know by WHEN they have to be taken care of, into your calendar for the day / time period that you want to process the email. More on this later.

3) Put emails that you need to evaluate regarding their processing time but still need to plan the processing itself in the @ACTION folder.

4) Put emails that you want to read at some point, which mostly contain information, in the @DEFER folder.

5) Put emails that you need answers to in the @WAITING FOR folder. This is where I put emails that I have sent and I am still waiting for feedback on them.

6) Emails that could break my neck go in the @XTOXIC folder.

Well, what happens to the emails that are in the @ACTION, @WAITING FOR, @XTOXIC folders? So that you feel like everything is okay – and it is truly awesome – you plan a time period once a week (e.g. an hour on Friday) during which you go through the folders @ACTION and @XTOXIC and put the emails in your calendar. The same thing goes for @WAITING FOR – if nothing has arrived I immediately become proactive and I push for an answer… When can I expect an answer, please? When the answer finally comes, the email can be archived on the hard drive.

3)    Email and calendars love each other – let’s bring them together!

How does that work? Unfortunately, I can only show you that for Outlook 2013, but it works with all programs:

I do this in my calendar with all my emails that I immediately plan to process because they have to be done by a certain deadline. Deadline is a funny word when I think about it... Dead... gruesome...

I go the START, choose the email, click in the top-bar on the icon “copy/move” and choose "calender". 

Then I choose the date, time, place and save the e-mail in my calender as a task. And there it is!

In case you say, “But I do not know when I can do it on Friday”, just put it for some time on Friday.

The amount of emails for each friday (or each day) easily shows you if you still have time on that day… A nice trick to book up my day, but not make them too full. 

And if you want to change the calendar entry because there is not enough time, just send a new meeting request to YOURSELF.

By the way, my calendar has 15 minute divisions and not 30 minutes. I can do many tasks in 15 minutes, and this makes more room in the calendar for 15-minute tasks.

Have a look at the screen shot - sorry it's the German version.
Hope that helps! Enjoy your day with stressless productivity!

All success, Andreas