Taking Control of Your Inbox

2017-10-17 taming your inbox

By Meredith Parker, account associate

Yesterday, I was reading a blog post on the Thrive Global website where Ashton Kutcher was interviewed and he explained that email is “everyone else’s to-do list for you.”

This statement really resonated with me. At my nonprofit, we have just kicked off our annual membership campaign and are in the midst of preparing our annual budget and coordinating an in-person Board of Directors meeting in November. These items are, of course, in addition to my regular day-to-day tasks. As a result, like many nonprofit professionals, my inbox is flooded daily with waves of items from members, staff, and volunteers that may or may not be related to the most pressing issues of the day. To further complicate matters, our policy is to turn around emails to everyone within two business days.

When I began my work as a nonprofit professional, I did not know how to satisfy these competing priorities. The easiest method is always the path of least resistance, so I would spend the majority of my time responding to emails. Eventually, I realized that, with the absence of a concrete plan of attack, emails were controlling my workflow and I wasn’t accomplishing work that needed to be done.

Over the past year, I developed an organizational strategy for managing my emails and work, which is shared below:

First I identified the functional areas of my work:

  • Annual Conference
  • Board of Directors
  • Awards and Scholarships
  • Committees and Task Forces
  • Volunteers

Second, I created To-Do Folders in my email inbox for each of these functional areas.

Third, I established that the first thirty minutes of the day are dedicated to:

  • evaluating the state of each functional area through emails
  • deciding how much time to allocate to each functional area based on emails and outstanding work.

Following this, the first fifteen minutes of my day, I open every new email in my inbox and allocate it to the correct functional area To-Do folder. Then, in the second set of fifteen minutes, I create a daily work plan. In this work plan, I first write down any meetings that I have. Then, I allocate time to each functional area depending on the work that needs to be done that day. I make sure that, even if there are not pressing matters in each area, I allocate at least 15 minutes to each area so I get to all emails with the required two business days.

Fourth, I follow the daily work plan. With my entire day laid out in increments of time corresponding to functional areas, I am forced to prioritize what is important in each functional area instead of letting my email dictate it. In addition, because I make time for every functional area, I ensure that I am not dropping the ball on any items even if they are not pressing.

Since establishing this workflow, I have found that I work more efficiently. Instead of getting bogged down by emails for an hour or two every morning, I spend time focusing on the most important work of the day and answer emails as time permits and as needed within a functional area.

Though this method works for me, I know that everyone’s brain works differently and it might not be an effective strategy for all. I would be interested in hearing what works for you. Please feel free to share below.

Want to know more about association management? Contact us at info@imiae.com to find out more about what IMI Association Executives can do for your organization.

 

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