Is management by emails really "so nineties" ?

The reality under this provocative title is the belief that things get done because you sent an email: "you were aware of it, I sent an email on the subject".

The real reality is that emails are just like any other communication means: a good followup is necessary to get things really done. People use excel table or OneNote or notebooks to track actions; what is presented here is a simple method to follow up actions within your project or even your personal tasks. Emails can be sorted in 4 categories:

  1. Delete: messages that can be immediately deleted after reading,
  2. Archive: information that must be archived for future referencing,
  3. Action: somebody expects something for you
  4. Waiting: you need information or expect an action from somebody
The 2 first categories are quite straight forward and do not need more explanation. Let's focus on the 2 other ones.

Action: somebody expects something for you

You got an email with:
  • a request for information,
  • a task to be done for a colleague/manager/friend,
  • something but you do not have the time to read it right now,
Those emails can be categorized as ACTION. MS OUTLOOK allows to create personal categories. Just create one that you call ACTION, choose a particular color (blue for me) and map it to keyboard shortcut.

When such an email arrives, leave it in your inbox, answer the person that you will look into it and use the keyboard shortcut to put it in the category ACTION. You can also use that category for your personal tasks or for ideas that deserves deeper investigation: just send an email to yourself with an explicit subject.

Waiting: you expect something

Emails are most of the time used by people to spread information or to get information. In both cases, you might expect feedback, answers, things get done by the persons to whom you sent the email.

In order to avoid to maintain a table with all the inputs that you are waiting for, just put a copy of the email you sent in your inbox and mark it with the category WAITING (orange for me).

We will see later how to use a macro to automatically get a copy of any emails you sent.

This category can also be used for emails sent by colleagues that cannot be immediately archived.

Here you are

Sorting your emails by converstation adds clarity. You know have an ordered inbox that you can can regularly browse to know:
  • what you still have to do: the ACTION category,
  • what you expect or people you must re-activate: the WAITING category.

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