Friday, November 12, 2010

Cultural Anthropology of my Work Email Inbox

I just re-organized my work email inbox. It took almost 8 hours. It was painful and tedious, terrifying and annoying. But when I was done, I realized I had documented my job and performance very well. It's a high impact job and there's a whole heck of a lot of stuff on here. It also indicated to me that my team is high-performing, because there's no other way that me and 7 people could get all this done if we weren't. In any case, I hope you'll enjoy my indulgent email here and perhaps it will help you in your own quest for efficiency or glory in clipboard-ry.

The prior system I had classified emails into stages of work completion (new, in progress and follow-up). There were also a number of small tasks or things I was tracking that were not in email, which meant that my inbox was not a 100% representation of my work load.

The new system now classifies emails first by project, and then I color-code based on stage of work completion into items to stay on top of and items to follow-up on that were delegated. I also added a series of email-notes to myself so that I included everything that I walk around with in my head that has to get done.

So now that it's done, I thought I had maybe 10 "projects" and it turns out I have about 45. That includes things such as:
  • Team: Setting the functional plan for next year. Measuring success from this year. Holding my boss honest to the 1 additional headcount he promised. Getting 3 people hired, 1 person promoted. Managing my own career and making sure my boss is helping me get promoted. (7 projects)
  • Product Launches: Staying on top of 5 heavy hitter initiatives and another 15 strategic projects and concepts. (20 projects)
  • Scheduling & Factory Capacity: Reporting out on total capacity we got this year and also managing daily questions on factory capacity and helping project teams to plan ahead to avoid bottlenecks. While I don't own the capacity, I have the view of what it looks like. (3 big projects)
  • Strategic Analysis: Completing 2 really heavy-duty analyses for our C-level executive in the next week. Starting to link actual financial results with the incoming product portfolio so we better align financial results to desired portfolio. Ongoing screening of incoming concepts to ensure they are balanced across customer segments and that we have good outreach on early stage initiatives. Run 2 ongoing governance meetings on general solutions that don't neatly fit into a product. (5 big projects)
  • Department Initiatives: Stay connected with 4 major department initiatives to improve processes by launching a new portfolio database, move to program management and benefits realization and setting up a product quality council. (4 projects)
  • My Initiatives: Launch a major new effort to build a forecast/schedule for better ongoing planning. Extend our portfolio tracking to 4 additional product areas. (5 projects)

1 comment:

Capt. BS said...

Interesting. As someone with absolutely no email organization habits (current inbox count is 2617 items following my most recent quarterly archiving effort), I find it interesting to hear people describe the systems that they've invented to help them sort, prioritize, and manage their work through their inbox. I like that you've taken most people's default organization scheme (by project) and used color-coding to overlay a "status layer" that gives you an at-a-glance view of what's lagging and what's on the 10-yard line. (If you're using Outlook, I'm sure you're also using Search Folders to give you dynamic views across all projects by status.)

I have to say, though, in terms of overally complexity, this system pales in comparison to the one that one of our customers uses (and that our CRM product is replacing). This system, which uses a many-levels-deep nested Exchange folder tree structure to organize clients, projects, meetings, support tickets, etc., simply cannot be described in fewer than 4000 words... you have to behold it for yourself. (Just ask Lilac... she gave up after I had navigated a mere 8 folders deep en route to a past meeting agenda that was buried 15 or 20 levels down.)

Suffice it to say that this customer, who runs a 10-person company, has an Exchange datastore that is over 200GB in size which, until recently, was impossible to backup, because there simply wasn't an affordable hard drive that was big enough to contain it. Also, since Exchange file paths can be a maximum of 255 characters long, and since the "folder" part of the path takes up most of those characters, in some cases, files end up with unhelpful names like "A4.doc". Administrative assistants that do not learn the system within 10 days are typically fired, and about half who do quit within the first month. In all the history of email and Microsoft Exchange, I would wager the down payment on my house that no one else has never used this system.

So yes, cheers to your new filing system. It actually makes sense.