These days at the University of Maryland University College, I find that my goals for the day revolve around my email in-box. Each day is a bit of a war, my goal is to end up with no more than the number of emails in that in-box than I started the day with.
When I finish with the issue an email brought to me I delete it or I save it to an email folder. In either case the result is one less email.
One question I wrestle with is should I focus on the emails at the top of the in-box, which are newer (my emails are sorted new to old), or at the bottom of the email in-box, which are older.
I compare it conceptually to whether you want rolls of toilet paper with the paper coming over the top or under it, everyone has a different preference but does it make a difference.
I have tried both. If I start from the bottom, sometimes I never get to very important immediate issues. When I start from the top, sometimes I never get to older issues at all. There is the side advantage that some older issues just sort of become irrelevant and move from the ‘do something’ category to the ‘delete’ category. Of course when you have my job which includes dealing with student complaints about grades or issues in a classrooms, long delays in responding have a tendency to make matters worse.
For a while I tried a hybrid approach. Trying to get rid of all emails from ‘today’ on the top and then going back to the bottom hoping to meet in the middle at some point.
And I suppose if I was more thoughtful I would even try sorting everything into priorities, which I did once but found all I was doing was creating a new version of top and bottom, but with subsets – top-a, top-b, …, bottom-z.
After much thought I have come to conclusion that the best solution would be to delegate the emails to someone else. Now if I could just find someone else to delegate them to.