While all of those options are most certainly valid ways to deal with an overload of some sort, you’ll have to be aware that any kind of automatism requires stringent training of the system that does for you what you are unable/unwilling to do yourself.
When it comes to emails, one of the most common ways to keep the Inbox clear of anything you don’t need to see is to apply filters. At face value, this looks like a brilliant way to sort incoming (and don’t forget outgoing) emails into specific folders. So far so good.
But is it? It sounds like a wonderful thing, but have you ever set up a mail filter yourself? I bet the majority of you have not. Let me tell you: this may look easy, but most users create two or three filters and then forget about them. Not only do they need maintenance (yet another newsletter from another source needs to be added to that ‘newsletter’ filter) but also whatever folder those go into needs to be monitored for those false positives that use that word or phrase you have based your filter on.
Tip: if you set up a filter to shift incoming stuff into a folder and never look at the folder it’s better to unsubscribe from those messages if you can: why accumulate those messages if you are not looking at them?
Filters can be treacherous
If you persevere and set up multiple filters for your emails, be aware that filters are applied consecutively, so if you have one that looks for “newsletter” and another that searches out a particular “sender name”, then whichever filter sits on top of the list is applied first and the email would go into that folder! So if you get something with the subject line “newsletter for Dr. Smith” you would not want this to go into the “newsletter” folder” but more likely into the “Dr. Smith” folder. Hence the need for care (and more maintenance, negating that sense of winning time through filters)
Tip: if you create filters, stick to the same type of criteria, i.e. only words in the subject line or only the sender name. Stay away from mixing criteria for filters!
Working with an assistant
You may not think if it this way, but having an assistant do things for you is no different from automatization! That assistant needs to understand what to do with your papers and process them according to your wishes. Not only is there always a large grey area of slight misunderstanding, oversight and papers sticking together, but requirements tend to change over time. One correspondent may work with you on multiple projects, one project may involve multiple subcontractors, etc.
Unless you work very much in unison, there is a huge need of constant communication and clearance of unclear situations. In my experience, most bosses tend to invest too little time in communication with their assistants. Many believe that – once the initial clarification has been given – things will run smoothly without further input.
Tip: if you work with an assistant, make a point of having a meeting regularly to address any pending issues. Not only does that give your assistant a chance to clarify things, but also it might just keep them from having to interrupt you all the time for that exact reason.
You may have understood by now that anything with the label “automatic” does not mean “fixed once, works forever” but it actually implies “fixed for now, needs regular adjustment”.
And regular adjustment needs time. So why not ask yourself if there are areas of automatism in your work or life that you haven’t reviewed in a long time. And then review them. This includes things like subscriptions to magazines, automatic payments from your bank account, things you do regularly but really don’t want to do, etc.
You may just find that there is a lot of slack you can leave behind.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My mission: help clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.