Emergency Room Metaphor for Your E-mail Inbox

April 20, 2012

Thinking of your Inbox as the receiving area of an emergency room can help you see how to get it under control.

In an emergency room receiving area, there is often a nurse or doctor who quickly triages patients as they arrive, sending them off to appropriate doctors or places in the hospital. For that to work correctly, that nurse or doctor needs to make quick decisions and keep the room generally cleared. If the waiting room is overflowing and out of control, chaos reigns and people may even die.

In this triage, seriously injured or ill patients are taken right into medical treatment. People who they determine have longer-term or less-urgent conditions are put in a separate waiting room or are scheduled for later visit.

Non-actionable arrivals are also processed quickly. For example, when the postal service arrives with informational mail, it is filed away quickly (otherwise it would gum up the emergency room paperwork). Sales people trying to sell goods are dismissed immediately.

The key point here is that incoming events in the receiving area of the emergency room are processed and decided on quickly and moved on; they are not left in the receiving area. If that room is not kept relatively clear, then chaos results. If that happens, the triage nurse or doctor may lose track of who needs urgent attention and who does not. An incoming patient with serious conditions may get ignored and possibly even die in the chaos.

The lessons here for the Inbox should be obvious. Like patients in an emergency room, some of your incoming mail may need very urgent and immediate attention. Some with slower burn will need to be converted to tasks for later action (and placed in an appropriate 1MTD/MYN urgency zone). Some mail will be filed as information only, and some will be dismissed as sales junk. But in all cases, you want to clear the Inbox quickly so you can make those same quick decisions on the new e-mail that continues to rush in behind the old.

Naturally, the 1MTD and MYN systems have been designed to help you do that—to prevent any of your “patients” from dying on your watch!


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2 Responses to Emergency Room Metaphor for Your E-mail Inbox

  1. Jing says:

    Your thoughts are quite helpful. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Henry Larry says:

    The emergency room metaphor brilliantly captures the essence of efficiently managing an inbox. Clearing the clutter swiftly resonates with the need for prompt decision making preventing email chaos and potential oversight of critical tasks.
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