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

  • 6/13/2007

Using the MPS Workflow Model to Process and Organize E-Mail

You’ve now learned how to create meaningful e-mail messages using the E-Mail PASS Model, how to set up your To-Do Bar, and the few essential technical features for moving e-mails onto the To-Do Bar and Calendar. Now you’re ready to go to work on processing and organizing your e-mail using the MPS Workflow Model.

Quick question: Does your e-mail come to you in the order in which it needs to be done? Now that would be a great software product! Until such a time, you have to process and organize your e-mail so that you can prioritize when to take the necessary actions.

Most of you probably scan your e-mail throughout the day, jumping around your Inbox and opening and closing messages without taking any action. We call you people “jumpers,” and you know who you are! The more you do this, the quicker it is for your Inbox to grow in size and the more time you are spending on nonproductive actions. For some people, the Inbox grows to as many as 7,000 e-mail messages. To get through large volumes of e-mail, you need a system for managing messages. The Workflow Model can help you process and organize your mail using a systematic approach so that you can empty the Inbox regularly.

Reviewing e-mail during meetings, in between meetings, and while you’re on the phone is not a productive way to process mail. We recommend quiet time during which you can concentrate, pause, and think clearly. Therefore, the first step in processing and organizing e-mail effectively is to schedule at least one hour of uninterrupted time each day to get through your e-mail. You will discover over time how much time you need to book and when the best time to book it is. Some clients like to process e-mail first thing in the morning, whereas others prefer the end of the day; you’ll discover what works best for you. This doesn’t mean you cannot monitor your e-mail during the day; however, processing e-mail is a completely different skill from monitoring and it requires your full attention.

The second step is to sort your e-mail into the order in which you want to process it, organizing it by date, subject, or person. You’ll be processing your e-mail messages one at a time, starting at the top of the list. This means that after you open an e-mail message, you will not close it until you have decided what the action is and transferred it into the appropriate bucket, be it your delete bucket or an SNA bucket. Basically, you’re not allowed to close it back into the Inbox! Now for you “jumpers,” during this exercise, we want you to refrain from jumping; work one e-mail at a time in sequence. Don’t move to the second e-mail message until the first is processed. We know this will be challenging; however, it is well worth the discipline.

Now you’re ready to start working through the MPS Workflow Model. Double-click your first e-mail message and let’s get cracking.

What Is It?

Is the e-mail message you’ve selected reference or action, big or small, a Meaningful Objective or Supporting Project, personal or business? When you’re clear what the message is, move onto the next question in the Workflow Model.

Is It Actionable?

Given everything else on your plate right now, is it appropriate for you to take on this action? If not, you have three options:

  • File it in your new, improved E-Mail Reference System.

  • File it in your SNA Someday Maybe category (we discuss how to do this in the following sections).

  • Swiftly delete it, never to be seen again! (We’d like you all to become much more familiar with your Delete key!)

All of these options remove the e-mail message from your Inbox. If you want to take action on this e-mail, move on to the next question.

Does It Relate to a Meaningful Objective?

Ensure that the action this e-mail message requires maps to one of your personal or business Meaningful Objectives. If it doesn’t map to one of your Meaningful Objectives, question why you want to take action on it. Just because a message shows up in your Inbox doesn’t mean you need to act on it. Be discerning about what you put your energy into. At the end of the day, you’re measured on your objectives (at work), and so it’s important to stay focused on them and not get distracted into other areas.

This is also true of your personal life. Because you’re not measured on your objectives, it’s easy to abandon the goals you’ve created and get lost in distractions. Asking whether the message relates to a Meaningful Objective helps you pause and question how you’re using your time and energy.

The question “Does it relate to a Meaningful Objective?” leads to both a “yes” and “no” option. If the answer is “no,” we suggest you first look to disengage from the commitment altogether. This involves contacting the respective stakeholder to let the person know and creating ways of doing this that have integrity. In some cases, you may not be able to disengage from the action because it is too far along the process and you have to complete it. At this point, you can consider renegotiation, finding out if the action can be completed later or changing the scope to make it easier to complete along with your other objectives. It can be uncomfortable to back out of an agreement you’ve already made. However, if you ask this question before you make agreements, you can ensure that you only involve yourself in commitments that link to one of your Meaningful Objectives. The key here is asking this question upfront so that you can let people know right away if you can assist them or not.

By disengaging from commitments that don’t focus on your objectives, you free up your time and energy, making it easier to stay focused on the objectives you have already agreed to accomplish.

If your e-mail communication does map to one of your Meaningful Objectives, move on to the next question.

What Is the Strategic Next Action Without a Dependency?

Take a few moments to clarify what your Strategic Next Action is. Make sure it is a one-step item with no dependencies so that you can complete the action immediately. We don’t want you to put off this decision and close the e-mail message back into the Inbox.. After you’ve created your SNA, you’re ready to move onto the next section of the Workflow Model, which we call the Four Ds for Decision Making. This helps you decide whether to complete your SNA right away, delegate it, or defer it. We will pick up this discussion regarding what to do with your SNA in the section titled “Do it... If it Takes Less Than Two Minutes.”