Product Manager Secrets For Dealing With Email

by drjim on January 13, 2009

Product Mangers Need To Find A Way To Deal With Lots Of Email

Product Mangers Need To Find A Way To Deal With Lots Of Email

So here we stand together at the start of a new year filled with hopes and dreams that this year will be better than last. Now if we could just do something about that email problem that we’ve all been dealing with…

I don’t know about you, but depending on what part of the product development / release cycle I’m currently at, I can get up to about 300 emails a day. Talk about a Tsunami! You may have already guessed that not all of those emails are all that important; however, I still need to work my way through the pile in order to find the ones that are important!

In the past I was just overwhelmed by this amount of email. I’d sit down and try to work my way through the pile, but by the time I got a few answered, more would have arrived! There seemed to be no way to climb this mountain.

Desperate for some sort of solution, I looked around for a solution. Based on some blogs that I had read, I discovered David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach. I read his book and spent some time thinking about what he had to say.

I must confess that there were a lot of things that David suggested doing that I was just unable to put into practice in my life for one reason or another. However, he made some really good points about email that struck home with me.

David basically said that too many of us (me included) tend to use our “inbox” as a storage place for emails. His suggestion was that we clean out our inboxes and keep them clean. Hmm, this sure seemed like just the thing that I needed to do.

At work I use the corporate Microsoft Exchange email system. After reading David’s book, I went ahead and created two new folders to store email in. I called these folders “@Action” and “@Waiting For”. The “@” symbol is used to make both of these folders easy to find by having them show up at the top of my list of Outlook folders.

The “@Action” folder is used to temporarily store emails that I need to look at further. This allows me to quickly step through my new emails and throw away the junk, reply to the quick answers, and file everything else in @Action.

This allows me to process immense amounts of email very quickly. Yes, I realize that this means that I’ve got more work to do, but it’s still a step in the right direction. Words cannot describe the incredible feeling of satisfaction that one feels when you see an empty email inbox!

The “@Waiting For” file is used slightly differently. Whenever I send an email to someone asking for information or requesting something, the challenge is to remember that I’ve asked for something (and what I’ve asked for). I “BCC” myself on these emails and when I get a copy of the email that I’ve sent, then I go ahead and file it in my “@Waiting For” file.

Now dear reader, you may have already spotted the one flaw in my clever system: I need to remember to review the “@Action” in order to work through those emails that require some study. I also have to remember to go through the “@Waiting For” file in order to go back and remind people that they owe me information.

No system is perfect, but this way of dealing with email has served me well for about 5 years now. I may find a better way in the future, but for now this one takes care of me.

What do you think? Do you have an email system that works for you? Do you think that my system would work for you? Can you think of anything that I should be doing to make my system better? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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