Manage Your Inbox Mindfully

By Nov 12, 2019 0

Falling behind on conversations is inevitable. Email and SMS inboxes are full of unstructured and cluttered data. This chaos makes it hard to focus on specific tasks and projects because your attention is being drawn in a million different directions.

Many people will attempt to work through their inbox with the goal of reaching zero unread messages. Striving for zero unread messages is like Sisyphus rolling a boulder uphill only to watch it roll back down again. Once you’ve responded to every single message, more are going to come in.

The problem with aiming for “inbox zero” is that it’s focused on the number of messages, not the type. The type of message should determine how and when you handle the conversation. All conversations are not created equally, so they shouldn’t be treated equally.

The key to a well-managed inbox: structure your messages so you can approach each type of conversation in the most efficient way. By adding structure to the chaos, you’ll be able to determine workflows for certain message types and take deliberate action when managing your inbox.

1. Prioritize

President Eisenhower said, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” This quote inspired a method of time management called the Eisenhower Box.

Use the Eisenhower Box method to break down your inbox into varying levels of urgency and importance. With the Eisenhower Box method you can determine a specific workflow for each message type and start managing your inbox more mindfully.

Image by James Clear

DO: These are the most important messages you receive. “Do” messages require an immediate response or action.

DECIDE: These conversations are important, but they don’t have to be attended to right away. You can schedule time to handle these conversations.

DELEGATE: These conversations are urgent, but best handled by a co-worker. They might cause you to break focus from more important messages, or result in a lot of busywork.

DELETE: These are easy to identify and rarely need a response. They’re typically marketing messages, promotions, and advertisements.

Take a second to think about the messages you receive regularly. Most likely, you’ll be able to think of a few examples for each category just off the top of your head.

Once you have a clear understanding of the four categories, it’s time to put them to use.

2. Examine

It’s unrealistic to think you can look at an inbox with 25 unread messages and know exactly what to do. To start managing conversations more efficiently, you need to make sense of the chaos.

You can do this by analyzing the messages you regularly receive. The goal here is to collect a week’s worth of conversation data and categorize them based on the four Eisenhower Box categories: DO, DECIDE, DELEGATE, and DELETE. Then, you’ll determine what actions you took for each conversation and start to build workflows.

You can do this recording in an Excel spreadsheet, but Aptly can simplify the process significantly.

In Aptly, you can assign Private Topics to email conversations, SMS messages, and phone calls. For this exercise, create four Private Topics called DO, DECIDE, DELEGATE, and DELETE. To create a Private Topic, go to your Settings. Choose My Topics. Then, click Add New.

You can set keywords for each topic, and Aptly’s AI will automatically assign a topic to conversations that contain your set keywords. For example, if you want to assign all messages from your boss to the DO topic, you can set your boss’s name as a keyword. Keywords are useful, but be sure to manually check and assign each conversation as some messages you receive won’t have common keywords.

Assign a topic to each message that comes in this week. This might seem like a lot of work, but trust me, the data you’ll get from this exercise will save you time in the future. Set aside an hour or so at the end of the week to review the data you collect.

Some conversations will be easier than others to categorize. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help:

DO:

Which conversations can’t fall behind?

Which conversations require me to complete a task?

Which conversations are necessary for my job performance?

Which conversations am I responsible for that others are depending on me to handle?

DECIDE:

Which conversations are complex and require a lot of time?

Which conversations do I dread replying to?

Which conversations require a long and thought-out reply?

Which conversations do I usually fall behind on?

DELEGATE:

Which conversations should be dealt with by a coworker or employee?

Which conversations result in a lot of busywork?

Which conversations cause me to break concentration?

DELETE:

Which messages do I rarely read?

Which messages are always sitting in my inbox?

Which messages do I usually delete?

During this exercise, you’ll collect a week’s worth of data that will tell you how many DO, DECIDE, DELEGATE, and DELETE messages you receive. This is the first step to creating inbox workflows to help you manage your conversations more deliberately.

At the end of the week, you can view your individual conversations in each topic by adding each topic folder to your inbox view in Aptly. To do this, navigate to your Aptly inbox. In Pane 1, click •••More. Then click Add Private Topics to view your topic folders in your inbox.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the time you scheduled at the end of the week to review your conversations data, go through the messages in each topic folder from the last week. First, how many conversations are in each topic? Second, what action was taken after reading each message?

  • Did you complete tasks after receiving the message?
  • Create a meeting?
  • Update a project?
  • Delegate or forward to a coworker?

Record the actions you took after receiving each message in the Comments section in Pane 4.

Once you’ve done this for all conversations from the last week, you should have a general idea of what kind of tasks you’re doing most often for each Eisenhower Box category.

3. Build workflows

Now, you’ll need to create a game plan for managing your inbox everyday. By regularly categorizing your conversations based on priority, you’ve already made it easier to work through your inbox in a deliberate and structured way.

Building your workflows is the next step. Workflows are a determined sequence of steps followed from start to finish to complete a certain task. Your workflows will be very unique to your job, so here are some ideas to help you get started.

DO:

DO conversations sometimes require you to complete a separate task or list of tasks. If your goal for the day is to reply to messages in your DO folder, send all of your replies before you begin completing tasks. Multitasking is a myth. Studies say it takes 25 minutes, on average, to return to a task after interruption. Since interruptions in concentration can cost 25 minutes of your day, stay focused on either replying or completing tasks, not both.

When replying, you might notice you regularly respond to some messages in a uniform fashion. If you’re a property manager, an example of this could be a pet application. Most of the time, you’ll reply to all of these messages in the same way, with few differences in content. This is a perfect opportunity to take advantage of Aptly Communication Templates.

Communication Templates in Aptly are templated responses that use merge fields to automatically fill in data like a contact’s name, integrated from your property management software. These templates can be used to respond to emails or SMS messages. If you’re responding to a pet application submission, Aptly can merge data from the application into the message. Here’s an example:

Hi {{firstname}},

Your pet application for {{Pet Application[“Pet Name”]}} has been received! We are currently evaluating {{Pet Application[“Pet Name”]}} to ensure our defined pet policy will be upheld should we approve your application.

Please allow up to 48 hours to process this application. You will receive a follow up email once a decision has been made.

Thank you for patience, {{firstname}}.

{{activeUserName}}

To merge data from the application itself, the application web form needs to be integrated with an Aptlet board. Read this article to learn more about integrating web forms with Aptlet boards

Aptly will already have a few templates pre-made, but you can create as many templates as you wish! The best part? You can assign topics to templates as well, so they’re automatically suggested when replying to messages you’ve assigned to the DO topic.

Once you’ve replied to all the messages in the DO topic, it’s time to tackle the DO messages that require a separate task or list of tasks.

For these conversations, Aptlet boards will be your best friend. Aptlet boards are a Kanban-style tool shared between all members of your team. Aptlet cards move from stage to stage until the task is completed. Aptlet boards can also be viewed as a table, which can be useful for data-heavy records. Aptlets give your team the ability to collaborate on projects and easily track progress.

Let’s say you just got a message telling you a new pet application was submitted. You’ll need to add the application to your records and go through an approval process. Normally, you would have to open a separate program that handles pet applications, but Aptly streamlines the process by allowing you to execute work directly from the inbox.

With a Pet Applications Aptlet board, you can manage your pet applications in the same place you manage your inbox! From your inbox, you can create new records (Aptlet cards) or edit existing ones.

It’s super easy to create a new Aptlet card. With the conversation open, simply click Create Aptlet to create a new card on your pet application board. All of this happens with the original message still open, so you can easily enter data from the message into the Aptlet card.

Be sure to Archive the conversation when all tasks have been completed. This will move the conversation to an “Archived” folder, and you’ll have the option to send a CSAT survey. If you’re regularly communicating with residents, sending surveys when conversations are closed is crucial to keeping a pulse on resident sentiment.

Now that this task is out of your inbox and on your Aptlet board, it’s easier to manage! If you consistently utilize communication templates and Aptlet boards for task-heavy conversations in your DO topic, you’ll be spending less time in your inbox and more time executing work deliberately.

DECIDE:

These conversations are important, but they don’t have to be attended to right away. When working through your DECIDE topic, Aptly’s Snooze/Reminder feature will make managing these conversations much easier.

The snooze/reminder feature is useful for strategically planning inbox management around your workday. When you receive a message that warrants a long, thought-out response, you can use the Quick Actions at the bottom of the message to snooze it and set a reminder to get back to it later.

By scheduling a separate time to work on DECIDE conversations, you can zero in on messages you can easily and quickly reply to. This way, you can focus on one thing at a time, resulting in higher concentration and productivity.

A type of DECIDE message you might receive regularly are messages related to long-term projects. These usually involve collaboration with others on your team. Take advantage of Aptlets, Shared Topics, and Comments for these projects.

With the help of Aptly, you can create a Project Management board to consolidate information about projects. When you receive a message about a long-term or complex project, add a card to this board by choosing Create Aptlet at the bottom of the message.

By using Aptlet boards, the entire team can stay in the loop on projects and collaborate easily.

Utilize Shared Topics for projects with multiple people involved. Shared Topics are just like Private Topics, but the entire organization can see them. To assign a Shared Topic to a conversation in a shared inbox, simply assign the topic to the conversation. For messages from personal inboxes, first Share the message with everyone that needs to be involved, and then assign a Shared Topic to the conversation.

By using Shared Topics for projects, you can reply to project-specific messages from the project’s Topic folder. Once again, this gets work out of your cluttered inbox and into a place where you can work more deliberately and mindfully.

Finally, use Comments to collaborate on a project. The Comments tab in Pane 4 is most useful for allowing team members to communicate through @mentions on any email, SMS, phone call, Aptlet card, contact, or location.

DELEGATE:

Aptly makes it incredibly easy to delegate conversations or Aptlet cards to others. When a message comes in that is best handled by someone else, you can assign it to another person, or create an Aptlet card and assign it to that person.

To assign a conversation, click Assign and select a teammate. This person will have full access to the conversation thread and can view it in the Assigned to Me inbox view. You can give the conversation context by adding some Comments in Pane 4.

To assign an Aptlet card, select a coworker from the dropdown menu under Assignee. Aptly will notify users when a conversation or Aptlet card has been assigned to them.

Aptlet boards bring a new level of visibility to task and project management. When you delegate a conversation to someone by simply forwarding it, you run the risk of the conversation getting lost in their inbox. You also have no way of knowing if the task was completed unless they tell you. By using Aptlets to delegate tasks, you can follow the person’s progress and even make suggestions with Comments.

DELETE:

These messages are the easiest to manage, but when left unchecked, they can severely clutter your inbox. Take some time to go through all messages you mark as DELETE to either add them to a Promotions private topic or unsubscribe.

Sometimes promotional messages can be useful! They contain marketing information or new ideas and products related to your industry. Decide which promotional lists you want to receive messages from, and unsubscribe from the rest. It seems simple enough, but it’s all about taking the time to do it.

Schedule 15 minutes every Friday to go through your DELETE messages for the week and unsubscribe from lists that don’t bring value to you or your team. Then add the messages you want to keep to a Promotions topic so you can keep them all in one place. You can add the brands you want to hear from as keywords in the Promotions topic, and Aptly will automatically assign the topic to messages that contain those words.

Also, remember to clear unwanted messages from your inbox. Simply archive the conversation in Aptly to remove it from your main inbox view.

Managing Your Inbox Mindfully

Time to start brainstorming! Use the examples we gave to spark your creativity. Think outside of the box, and start building workflows that work best for you!

Just remember to always keep the Eisenhower Box structure in mind:
What can I do now? What can I do later? What can someone else do for me? What value am I getting from this message?

By adding structure to the chaos of conversations, you’ll spend less time in your inbox and more time executing work like a boss!

To help your team work more collaboratively and deliberately, sign up for an Aptly demo today! If you’re already using Aptly, login now to start executing work directly from your inbox.

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