I get roughly 100-200 emails a day and I have 1,500 emails sitting in my inbox still unsorted. Sorting them to their little folders is quite a task and it’s just mostly to quell my OCD. All of them have been read though, and I have responded to the urgent ones. Honestly, I don’t want to be a bottleneck for the really urgent ones because that could really cause big problems in my line of work. If I can confirm something quickly, I would. The world will not stop and my MS Outlook will just be churning emails after emails. That probably eats most of my day.
I usually put priorities with emails. If it’s red with (!) or the subject has my name, I will act on it as soon as I get it and put it in its folder. For the normal looking ones, I read all of them and determine its importance. If I find it important enough, I respond to it quickly as well. If it’s not that important, I de-prioritize it and move on to the next email. Once I have responded to all of my important action items, I then work on to the emails I don’t find important. At the end of the day, my input is still needed by the other party. It might come in late, but at least the action is not in my queue.
My system though has a bias. What’s not important for me is probably important for the other person. He might be trying to catch a deadline too and my inputs were really needed. Of course, he can call me up, IM me or send me a follow up howler. That nudge usually does the trick in getting that item closed. Getting Things Done, a productivity framework I tried to apply, has a different approach. It uses a First-In-First-Out approach on the to-do list. During your first review, you already do the things that can be done in seconds, and separate those that are needed on a different day, or still waiting for another action. So, you are left with items that you really need to do that takes more time than a few seconds. Then, you work on the list one-by-one in sequence. The process just repeats and that’s how your day goes by.
It has pros and cons of course but I still like my system. I think putting the bias adds the human component to any system. Each person measures importance differently and everyone have different priorities. I think they are key players in our decisions, choices and ultimately, what we do in our lives.