I was doing a course recently where one of the core components was an emphasis on creating systems, including an email system. The system was based on this blog post by Becky McCray and is amazing in its simplicity and its power.
The key point to the system is the proper use of filters. As Becky puts it:
Picture a big pile of paper mail. It’s all mixed up. You can’t tell what’s in there. You have to process it one item at a time, in no particular order.
Now, imagine your assistant comes in and sorts the pile. There are magazines in one box, newsletters in another, bills all together, notes from friends where you can find them, junk mail trashed, letters from clients grouped, and the packet from the boss right on top. Then, your assistant only brings you the items you need right away. You can deal with the work items, savor the personal notes, let the bills wait until bill-paying day, and easily skim through newsletters on your lunch hour.
That’s essentially what you’re doing with filters – using the email client as a virtual assistant to manage your piles of email.
But wait – this could be used for more than just email…
It got me thinking about some of the other areas where I get a lot of information on a regular basis during the day – namely my social networks, Google +; Twitter and LinkedIn.
And I realised that filters for email can be seen as:
* circles in Google +
* lists in Twitter and
* tags in LinkedIn but since you can’t see aggregated updates anyway it is a bit pointless.
So I spent a couple of hours on a quiet, hot Sunday afternoon going through my Google + and Twitter networks and putting people into circles and lists.
The beauty of both these networks is that people can’t see what circles or lists you’re adding them to (remember to keep your lists private in Twitter!) so it doesn’t matter what you call your ‘filters’ as long as they mean something to you.
Also you can move people around and even ‘double them up’ by putting them into multiple circles / lists whilst you work out the best fit for them.
I’ve basically set mine up under the same principle as Becky – so that I can deal with work related items easily and immediately; savour the personal contacts and skim through the newsletters (which are generally longer articles) during down times.
Small tweaks to make it work for me
Obviously I couldn’t use the very same system as Becky – and this is where I went back to the system devised by Rob Hatch (creator of the Work Like You’re on Holiday (oh ok, Vacation) course).
Rather than using stars and follow ups, he (if I understand it correctly!) essentially uses this filtering system to create batches of emails that he works through.
And that is what my circles and lists do – they’re listed in order of importance to me so that when I’m in my ‘social media’ time I know to start at the top of each and make my way down. Sometimes I don’t get through all of them – but that’s ok, I know I’ve gotten to read the ones that are most important to me.
So far it seems to be working, but it is very much a work in progress and I’d love to hear in the comments how you handle the information firehose.
Image by Yuval Y (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons