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Processing and Organizing Your E-Mail in Microsoft Office Outlook 2007

E-mail is a powerful tool that has the ability to increase productivity; a little education goes a long way and that’s what this chapter from Take Back Your Life!: Using Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 to Get Organized and Stay Organized is all about.

E-mail is one of the biggest challenges facing our organizations today. Our clients often comment, “We get too much of it, we can’t keep up with it, but we can’t stop doing it. We’re addicted!” Many companies are now questioning the value of e-mail and how to bring it back into balance. An information technology (IT) director recently commented to us: “E-mail has become unproductive. We’re overusing the Cc line, sending messages that aren’t valuable, and spending too much time with our heads stuck in the Inbox.” It would appear on the surface that e-mail is a big problem. However, is e-mail really the problem, or is it our approach to e-mail?

In the 21st century, technology has eliminated many personal boundaries, and a lot of our clients have allowed e-mail to drive their behavior instead of the other way around. As in dealing with interruptions, if you don’t consciously set boundaries for yourself, the world will set them for you. You have probably experienced working on e-mail at home, late at night, early in the mornings, during meetings, and while on telephone conference calls. Some of our clients have smartphones or personal digital assistants (PDAs) and process their e-mail while driving the car or standing in line at the grocery store!

We’ve discovered that e-mail is not the problem companies are facing today. The issue is the behaviors employees have adopted and developed around responding and approaching their inboxes. Companies readily adopted and deployed communication software company-wide; however, this was done with little or no education. In the absence of education, it is not surprising that e-mail communication has become a problem. The first step to controlling e-mail is re-examining your approaches, recognizing that they may not be working, and replacing them with behaviors that you can use to manage your e-mail more effectively, not just as individuals but as teams and organizations. E-mail is a powerful tool that has the ability to increase productivity; a little education goes a long way and that’s what this chapter is all about.

We review how to use the E-Mail PASS Model, which includes learning to create meaningful e-mail messages; the most appropriate use of the To, Cc, and Subject lines; and what questions to ask before clicking Send. We also review the McGhee Productivity Solutions (MPS) Workflow Model and the Four Ds for Decision Making, which you can use to process and organize your Inbox effectively so that you can empty it successfully into your Integrated Management System (IMS). (Yup, we did use the word empty!) When you’ve learned how to do this, you’ll find that it can relieve a tremendous amount of stress and help you make better choices about what your priorities are and how to get them done.

If you have hundreds of e-mail messages in your Inbox, there’s hope in sight. The search for the empty Inbox is close at hand, and there’s gold at the end of the rainbow! Many of our clients go to bed at night with an empty Inbox! Even if your Inbox is already clear, read on, because we’ll be introducing some very nifty MPS tips and tricks that we think you’ll definitely find valuable.

E-Mail Is a Communication Tool

Perhaps we have all forgotten that e-mail is primarily a communication tool. The purpose of communication is to exchange information so that it’s clearly understood. Therefore, one of the main functions involved in processing and organizing your e-mail is communicating effectively. Communication is an art we can practice and improve. If your messages are not clear, your recipients will not be clear, and effective action will not take place.

We’re certain you’ve gotten e-mail messages and said to yourself, “What is this, what does it mean, and why did I get it?” Having spent too much time trying to figure out what the message is about, you likely close it back into your Inbox, merrily on your way to hundreds, if not thousands, of other e-mail messages. On the flip side, think about the number of times you’ve sent an e-mail message that came back with questions because you didn’t write the message clearly enough to begin with.