Oh, email. Whether you’re managing a few people, a large team, or just yourself, it can both help and hinder your success. Because, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, the more people you collaborate with, the more messages build up, and the more challenging it is to get through them in the five minutes you have between back-to-back meetings.
While I can’t wave a magic wand and solve this problem for you, I can tell you that I found a system that really works for me as a manager—it all comes down to having a few trusty labels in your inbox. (If you have no idea how to use those, here’s a 101 here for Gmail and for Outlook.)
Unlike the filters I use for permanent filing, these three are temporary and just used to draw my attention to important things. As soon as I address the message, I remove the label and file as I normally would.
So, with no further ado:
1. “BLOCKER FOR OTHERS”
Yes, this one is in all caps. I even changed the color in my inbox to make it red. Each morning, I go through my inbox to make sure that I’ve identified critical messages that require my response. (A.k.a.: Without my response, people can’t move forward. At all.) By identifying those specifically, I ensure that I don’t prioritize quick replies over important ones.
At the end of each day, I make sure any remaining emails with this tag are handled first. And barring the rare exception, I don’t sign off for the night until that’s done. Not only does this mean I’m not holding anyone up, but that I can end every day knowing the most urgent issues are taken care of.
2. “The Name of Anyone You Meet With Regularly”
I have a one-on-one meeting with each of my direct reports each week, and while we keep a running agenda in a Google doc of things to discuss, I’ve found that sometimes quick questions or FYIs fall through the cracks.
What changed this for me was creating one label for each person with their name, for example, “For Lindsay” and “For Yusuf.” As emails come through my inbox that I think would be relevant for them, or that I want an update on, I add the tag with their name. Then, in my weekly meetings, I can do a quick search to see if I’ve talked to them about everything before we wrap up. Once that mission is accomplished, I remove the tag.
While I use this for my direct reports, you can use it for anyone you meet with regularly, from your own manager to the marketing team to a project manager.
3. “Quick Reply”
I’ve written about this before, but I’ve found it incredibly helpful to have a list of emails I can reply to in five minutes or less. When I’m waiting in line for coffee, taking the subway a few stops, or early for a meeting, I now have my first stop (yes, before Twitter or Instagram) to make sure I handle any requests.
Best part of this label? You get to feel super accomplished, very quickly.
And that’s it, three simple labels that you can set up easily one afternoon. Do you have any other inbox tricks that help you manage? Share them with me on Twitter @acav!