Soldiers are trained to keep their weapons in optimal condition. When an enemy is approaching, a soldier can't afford to have a gun jam because it was not cleaned.
Undisciplined, disorganised soldiers who don't know where their weapons are and who don't take care of them will soon be dead soldiers. That is why sergeants regard teaching the basics of weapon management to new recruits as one of their most serious duties.
This culture of discipline and preparedness can be applied to civilian life too. To battle the demands of the workplace, you need to be disciplined, organised and well-equipped with hard and soft skills.
Today, many professionals are struggling to survive huge workloads, mountains of documents and a deluge of e-mails. The primary source of electronic information for most people comes from the Internet or local area network (LAN) in the form of e-mail.
E-mail is a very useful tool when it is managed well. Allow hundreds of e-mail messages to clutter up your Inbox at work, and it will lead to low levels of productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness.
Imagine how stressful and frustrating it can be when you overlook an important e-mail from a client because it was "lost" amid the other messages, spam and other types of junk mail.
So, how do you deal with the e-mail at work?
1. The Do It Now principle
This simply means to attending to an e-mail immediately, if you are not in a middle of completing another task. E-mail applications have their own visual signal alert function, so every time you receive a new message, your system alerts you.
Scan the message, reply to it if necessary, save or delete it accordingly. This process helps to keep some of the clutter from building up in your Inbox.
2. Schedule a time
When you are not prepared to answer the message or you just don't want to be distracted because you are doing something else, schedule a time in your calendar to attend to it later. Turn off the alert function so that you won't be tempted to check new messages.
Make time in your calendar for at least three checks a day: morning, before lunch, and before leaving work. Processing means acting upon the contents of the e-mail. So it is better to deal with your messages before you start on a major task in the morning.
3. Create folders
Your inbox is just a landing ground. Create folders and sub-folders to which you can assign the e-mails you receive. Alternatively, you can classify e-mail messages according to priority levels (low, urgent, high), senders' names or names of companies, or their relevance to a subject, task or project.
To cope with unsolicited mail such as spam, switch on or install filtering software which enables you to automatically block mail from a specified set of senders. You can also opt to unsubscribe from receiving e-mails which carry advertisements or promotions. Most reputable online advertisers offer a hassle-free way to do this.
4. Assign timelines
With e-mails bouncing back and forth between you and your clients or colleagues on a number of projects, it is important that you track what action needs to be taken when and by whom.
Assign timelines to each project, keep all the relevant e-mails in a folder and print out hard copies for important tasks or deadlines. Make sure that you keep to the timelines and do a status check at least once a week, preferably during the time you have set aside for planning your work schedule.
5. Keep up-to-date
Look out for add-on applications in the market that will help you to gain more control over your e-mail and manage your time more effectively. Ask your boss to propose incorporating these add-ons in your company's e-mail environment.