Staying on Top of E-Mail, Final Thoughts

My last two blog posts described a monthly review process I’ve followed for 20 years or more to ensure I keep up with e-mail, tasks I’ve delegated, and the other details of managing a business that can get lost in the day-to-day crunch of everyday office life. In a nutshell, I set aside and slavishly protect a monthly Integration Day where I hang out in a hidden location with no distractions (usually the local library) and focus on all the things that dropped through the cracks during the previous 30 days.

One of the things that happens during my monthly review is that I am reminded about a task or project I had assigned to one of my managers earlier in the month, and realized that I have no idea of the status (and suspect that it probably dropped through the manager’s own cracks). I can then forward this e-mail and ask for an update. Doing so also reminds them that my request was not an idle one, and that I (and the company) really did need them to get it done.

While this approach worked well for me, some of my managers hated it. There were two problems. First, I might ask them about an update, only to find further down in my mail queue that they actually had updated me before. By then, of course, it was too late to retrieve my reminder e-mail. The second problem was that they might receive 5-10 e-mails from me in the row that they had to respond to or take action on. It got to the point where they would ask my secretary (with some fear and dread) if I was out on my Integration Day if I happened to be gone from the office.

The solution was simple. When I found an e-mail that reminded me I needed an update, rather than forwarding it right then (Ready, Fire, Aim), I created a Word file on my desktop where I pasted in the substance of the e-mail along with a short note with the specific question I wanted answered. Each manager had a different page in the Word document. If I found the answer later on in my e-mail review, I went in and deleted it out of the Word document. At the end of the day, I could then paste back an integrated list of questions for each manager in a single e-mail. I avoided duplication and a long queue of e-mails, and provided a single message where they could respond back with answers in-line. Easier for them to answer, and easier for me to review.

If you feel like e-mail and delegation gets away from you, I can recommend this as a system that has worked for me in a number of different management situations.


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