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Processing Emails

Reference and Action Information

The first step toward an organised Inbox is understanding the difference between reference information and action information.

Reference Information is information that is not required to complete an action; it is information that you want to keep in case you need it later.  File this immediately to an appropriate location.

Action Information is information you must have to complete an action. This page discusses Action Information in detail.

Make Time to Process Email

It is important to set aside uninterrupted time to process and organise your email.

Many email messages require a decision to be made.  Good decisions require focus, and focus requires uninterrupted attention.  A good suggestion is to establish a regular time each day to process your email so that you can empty your Inbox.  Of course, you should scan your email during the day for urgent messages or requests from your supervisor or manager.

Book yourself a recurring appointment for an hour a day to process email, and mark it as "busy".  During this time don't answer the phone or take interruptions, and work only on processing your Inbox.

Process One Item At a Time

Decide which order you wish to process your email.  For example, you can filter by date, subject, or who the email is from.

In Outlook, click the Arranged By: dropdown mennu and select how you want to arrange your email.

Arrange by dropdwon in Outlook

Resist the temptation to jump around in your Inbox in no particular order.  Begin processing the message at the top of your Inbox and only move to the second one after you've handled the first.

 

The following model is a valuable tool for processing email, enabling quick decisions as to what action to take with each item and how to remove it from the Inbox.

Ascertain the Required Action

A decision needs to be made as to what to do with the email.  The following items may assist in determining a suitable course of action:

Generally, half of the emails received can be deleted.  Many people fear deleting an email, but most emails kept are never used.

Note: It is important to remember not to delete emails that relate to a student, legal issues, etc.  

The following points help to determine whether an email needs to be kept:

  • Does the message relate to a meaningful objective 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 (remembering that it is important to not to delete emails that relate to a student, legal issues, etc)?  If not, delete it.

If you can't DELETE IT, then decide, "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 it in less than 2 minutes.  About one third of email messages can be dealt with in less than two minutes.

If you can't DELETE IT or DO IT in two minutes or less, can you DELEGATE IT?

If you can delegate it, do it right away.  You should be able to compose and send the delegating message in about two minutes.  Once you delegate the action, delete the original message or file it appropriately.

If you cannot DELETE IT, DO IT in less than two minutes, or DELEGATE IT, then 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 10 percent of your email messages have to be deferred.

Either mark the email as Unread (right-click on the email and select "Mark as Unread") to alert you that the email is still awaiting action.  Alternatively, right-click the email and select "Follow Up", setting a reminder flag for the email.

Further Assistance

If you require further information or assistance please contact the IT Help Desk on (08) 830 25000 or 1300 558 654.