Interruptions suck. They ruin our workflow and routines and all too often get in the way of us having productive workdays. Interruptions lurk behind every corner at work – from unexpected phone calls with clients to impromptu meetings to discuss matters of importance. Our greatest asset in helping us be productive is also the greatest impediment to getting our work done efficiently and without interruption – our computers and specifically, our email management.
How I discovered the OHIO method for Email Management
Recently, I was listening to a podcast during my morning drive to work. While I typically find this particular podcast insightful and informative, one recent episode really caught my attention. If you’re anything like me, your inbox at work is completely deluged with emails ranging from form letters from other firms pitching their services to clients informing you of important concerns to departmental memos which cannot be ignored. The topic explained on the podcast that struck like a Buckeye to the head was the OHIO method of managing email.
The OHIO method of email management stands for ONLY HANDLE IT ONCE. Essentially, once you see the email in your inbox, deal with it immediately if it must be, dealt with later. As the narrator of the podcast, Ken Knorr explained, “If you have time to open the email, you have time for a quick reply or appropriate filing.” The way I was handling my email previously, (as I imagine many of you out there do), was to look at it and then if it needed to be removed, the inconsequential message would be deleted immediately. Otherwise, I would tell myself that I would “circle back” to the email later and do something more appropriate with the message – either responding or cataloging/filing it.
Why Email Management is Important
According to MNC Consulting Group, 80% of incoming mail can be immediately allocated to shredding or recycling. This means only 20% of the mail and messages we receive daily needs to be allocated elsewhere or saved for future use/action.
A recent article in Money Magazine explained email this way:
“I think of the inbox as a flower garden (stick with me here). Your essential emails are the flowers from your clients, prospects, supervisor, etc. The weeds are the newsletters, junk mail and already-read emails chocking your flowers…You can’t see the flowers through the weeds.”
What the OHIO method stresses we do is to make the appropriate action for the email right then and there. As the podcast explained, as the method is incorporated and used daily, it becomes an efficient and productive way to distribute time to what otherwise can be a time-consuming and wasteful task.
Let’s examine how to organize using the OHIO method of Email management
- Filing – These are the emails and messages that need to be saved and filed away for later use. In some cases, these emails will need to be incorporated into the organization’s information resource system. In other cases, they can simply be saved in the inbox of the individual, never to be deleted. Some organizations prefer their employees never to delete anything – which allows all the information in their emails to be searchable and within reach.
- Reading – These are emails whose contents you can (and should!) catch up on when you have a free minute to peruse them. These emails can be examined anywhere – lunch breaks, on the train, or better yet – during a designated part of your day, preferably towards the end of your workday when you have fewer distractions and the ability to act on things you may need to promptly.
- Routing – In other words, forwarding. These are emails you do not need cluttering up your inbox or folders but may be useful to a colleague. If the message can be useful to someone else, give it to them – otherwise, get rid of it and don’t let it collect dust in your inbox.
- Action – These are the emails that include something that must be done – your ‘to do’ list. Have a separate folder within your mail program to instantly place these emails into when you are reviewing your inbox. Open this folder daily and make sure you complete the tasks and actions listed. Empty the folder and start the next day with an empty action folder to fill and execute.
Depending on your workplace and situation, these four folders can be physical folders placed on your desk and used when a piece of mail lands on your desk. However, in most cases, this system can be employed by creating four “folders” in your desktop email server.
Incorporating OHIO means we do not need to constantly hover over our inboxes breathlessly waiting for our next message to light up our screen. Did you know the average person checks their email 15 times a day? The OHIO method suggests we only check our email a few times a day. This way there are more messages to act on then and there. Of course, another benefit to this is there is more time saved doing important things, rather than checking our inbox every few minutes to look at messages we are not going to do anything with anyway.
I particularly liked Mark Murphy’s advice for productivity while at work:
“…for starters, take a 2-hour break from email. And then in that 2 hours, crank out your 1-2 most important projects. Lock your door, leave your office, walk to your favorite coffee shop, whatever you have to do in order to have the most productive 2 hours of your day.”
The OHIO method is a simple and quick way to increase productivity and save valuable time while managing a busy and complicated routine of tasks, projects, and communication at work. As one of my managers pointed out to me recently, you are less active and efficient when you have little thoughts or concerns nagging you in the back of your head. If feeling like I need to keep a constant eye on my email and then either responding immediately, disrupting my flow or ultimately not doing anything productive with them until I “circle back” to them is not slowing me down during the work day, I cannot think of a better example.
As a result of listening to the podcast during my morning drive, I can attest that the OHIO method is working for me. I encourage you to try it and tell others about it. See how much time you and your associates can save on document and email management, and either be more productive or mindful about the multitude of tasks we all have during our work days.