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Mind the Box

In the late 1960’s, officials at the London Underground were trying to solve the pesky problem of passenger safety between the train platforms and the train. They needed a phrase that could be repeated on a loop and was concise because data storage was extremely expensive. “Mind the gap” was a phrase they coined for this effort in 1968, and it has since become an iconic phrase and warning to visitors throughout the UK.

As you are moving through your day, heading here and there, don’t forget to mind the gap or you may fall on your face!

As business leaders, one of the smallest, most obvious danger zones we can overlook is our email inbox. We know it’s there, we know we need to pay attention to it, but sometimes as we are hurrying along, we may forget to Mind the Box . . . and before we know it, we have missed something important and we stumble.

I have used email for my entire professional life, and I have systems in place to ensure everything is filed properly and always attended to. It wasn’t until recently that I realized not everyone follows the same organizational commitment to email that I do. While I don’t achieve inbox zero every day, I generally average 30 emails in my inbox during the day and 10 at night, while constantly receiving a high volume of emails.

My ability to Mind the Box and keep order in my inbox is quite the secret weapon when it comes to staying on top of my work. Here are some tips for how to keep an eye on your inbox while functioning in a demanding, executive role.

  1. Respect your time. Train those within your organization to email you only when necessary and not to copy you on emails that you do not need to see.

  2. Use folders wisely. Folders can be a great organizational tool, but if they do not have a rhyme or reason or if they aren’t adhered to consistently, they will become an obstacle rather than an asset.

  3. Create as few folders as possible. You may need 30 active folders at any given time, and that is fine, if that’s the fewest number that allows you to manage your inbox well. As soon as a folder is no longer relevant in your ongoing work, transfer it into an inactive folder. You will still have access to your emails for history, but it will keep your email flow cleaner.

  4. Unsubscribe. Even if you are vigilant about unclicking boxes to receive promotional emails, you will end up on email lists. Some of them may be useful and relevant to your work. Keep those. For everything else, unsubscribe as quickly as you receive an undesired email. The last thing you need is unwanted clutter in your inbox.

  5. Use your inbox as your to-do list. Until you have responded or completed the necessary response to an email, leave it in your inbox as a reminder. If the email is related to a project, set a calendar appointment to complete the task and then file the email away. Beyond ongoing active to-do emails, file the rest in your folders as soon as possible.

Want to avoid getting tripped up by email? Mind the Box.

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