Seven Steps to Emptying Your Inbox and Managing Your Day

What if you spent less time reading emails, attending meetings and sorting through papers – and more time serving students?  If you are overwhelmed by Outlook or getting daily jitters from Gmail, these simple steps will get you off of your computer and on to rewarding things in no time.

1. Know your organization’s – or your own – overall mission. Missions are measurable, and they have deadlines, e.g., “The CLIC will increase the number of students obtaining accredited bachelor’s degrees by 5% by 2017.”  A lot of times, organizations have value statements that they mistakenly call missions.  Value statements tell us with what social and moral Inflatable Water Park For Sale emphases we want to accomplish our mission – “The CLIC will prioritize exposing students to opportunities and acknowledge and address their achievements and their roadblocks with compassion.”  If your mission statement really is a value statement, sit with your team and lock a measurable mission in place, even if it’s just for you.

2. Set only one or two short-term goals at a time. As you push towards the long-term mission, list all of the amazing ways you could accomplish this.  Then take two easy steps: 1) Remove any goals you don’t have at least 80% control over – or rephrase them so now you do; and 2) decide which one (MAYBE two, at the most) is the most likely to help the mission in the short term.  The rest can and must wait!

3. Radically reduce your Outlook filing folders or Gmail labels. The search functions on these applications are incredibly powerful.  It is fine to just create a single folder/label called “processed.”  At most, you can give yourself six Outlook filing folders or new Gmail tabs (e.g., Admin, Students, Schools, Families, Partners, Funding).  Right now, create a single folder called “Archives” and move all of your detailed folders in there just to clear visual space.

4. Adopt “prioritization” labels that let you mark emails based on their need to get done. “P1” (first priority) is for things that have an immediate deadline AND move the mission forward.  “P2” (second priority) items have a longer-term deadline AND move the mission forward.  “P3” (third priority) items have an immediate deadline BUT DO NOT move the mission forward.  You will be tempted to do P3 items instantly just for the relief of having met a deadline.  Let that go!  Start tackling the more critical P2 projects before they become emergencies…and you’ll soon run out of P1 items!

5. Transform emails into tasks or filing immediately. Don’t use your email inbox as your To Do list!  Process emails to figure out what you need to know or do, then turn any To Do emails instantly into tasks or calendar events (or assign them as tasks to other team members).  In Outlook 2010, you can create Quick Step buttons to flag an email (which adds the full email with attachments instantly to your task list) AND add a priority category of P1, P2 or P3 – with a single click.  In Gmail, open an email and choose “More” from the top menu, then click “Add to Tasks” – and be sure to start your description with P1, P2 or P3 so you can sort by priority!  Remember, emails are for information; TASKS are for action.  Process those emails, then file them all as “Processed,” then switch to tasks to get things done.

6.  Plan your day EVERY DAY. Don’t immediately start reacting to emails at the top of each day or just turn off your computer at the end.  Schedule about two minutes to review your tasks, and schedule them by priority into the available moments of your day.  If you can set aside the first hour of your day to process emails, schedule tasks and act on P1s, you can turn the rest of the day over to the routine rush and crush and still have moved your mission forward.  One big bonus: in Outlook, when you switch your calendar to weekly or daily view, your tasks are listed at the bottom and can easily be dragged and dropped right onto the calendar!

7. Accept that most of the day will be lost to the “rush and crush.” The nature of our jobs – and everyone else’s – is endless meetings, calls, colleague emergencies, etc.  If you hone in on a measurable mission, select only a few goals at time to pursue, and prioritize all emails, calls, meetings, drop-ins and other requests based on your priorities, an hour a day will get most things done – and you will regularly and steadily move your mission forward.  And that is the key to feeling productive, useful and effective in your day!

Are you ready to free up your days, stop working constantly after you leave the office and lift that nagging feeling that something fell between the cracks?  Consider sharing your new system with friends, bosses or colleagues so you can work better together – and so they understand when you gently ask if you can address their flame-shooting “P3” later today at a scheduled time on your calendar.


DMA is the CEO of The CLIC, the revolutionary new site where students can powerfully plan for college and institutions can effortlessly recruit students from a single home page in our FREE interactive network. CLIC students can connect to college matches, scholarship searches, college access programs and the nation’s first master calendar of all college-related deadlines and events, with streaming video tips and much more, at www.theclic.net.

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