Introducing a new blog series on productivity from our in-house expert on color coding and procrastination.
Utilizing and Organizing Email
Some people can pull off completing an incredible amount of work without any organization system, flying by the seat of their pants, and scrambling to somehow get everything done. Some thrive in chaos, but for the rest of us, starting with an organized work environment sets you up to manage tasks better and therefore get things done faster. The following are a few tips that help me stay organized and work efficiently, and perhaps they will help you as well. So if you are in the market for some unsolicited advice, feel free to read on.
- Use Color-Coding, Folders, and Labels
One of my favorite ways to stay organized is with color-coding and labeling. It may sound arts-and-crafts-y or unnecessary, but I believe that it can be a powerful to that allows you to visually organize information and to find what you need faster.
For every project that I work on, I create a corresponding folder in Gmail, and I assign it a unique color. I file all old emails in their respective folders, but I also use the folders to label emails as they arrive in my inbox. Until you remove an email from your inbox, the folders you apply can be used as labels, announcing an email’s affiliation with that particular folder without removing it from the persistent consciousness of your inbox. This way I’m not overwhelmed by a sea of nondescript and intimidating emails in my inbox—at a glance I can see which messages pertain to which project, and by utilizing “stars,” I can also tell which are more important to address right away, which need follow-up, and which can sit around until I have time to read them.
Bonus tip: If you use task management software, see if it has the ability to color-code projects or labels, and then apply the same color system to your tasks as you use in your email for an additional level of organization and efficiency.
- Utilize Stars
Gmail allows you to activate “stars” beyond the ubiquitous 5-pointed yellow star (here’s a tutorial). I use a red star for perilous emails, warning me that a client might be unhappy or that there might be an issue. The green checkmarks are for non-critical tasks, and the purple question mark tells me that something about the contents confuse me and I’m not really sure what to do with it yet. Those messages live in my inbox until the task is completed, the client is contacted, or the issue is cleared up. Then they get filed in their project folder in case I ever need to reference them again.
- Close Email When You Need to Get Work Done
Work culture is so fast paced today that you could easily spend an entire day just checking and responding to email, and it’s very tempting to let it take over your day when the tide of new messages seems relentless. But I start each day with a whole list of tasks to be completed that doesn’t include spending the whole day on emails. But if my email is open, I will always be watching and waiting for the next message, distracted from other tasks and woefully inefficient at anything else I try to accomplish simultaneously. So this tip is one that I desperately need to listen to more often: Close Your Email Client. Whenever you have a big task to complete, set aside some dedicated, productive time during which you don’t let anything come between you and getting the job done.