We recently released Issue 14 of Lean Progress and it included a brief set of tips on how to apply 5S on email. There is perhaps much more that could be written, but most people are so overwhelmed by the giant pile of emails that anything that gets us started can be a help. For many people who complain about their email, they don't feel compelled to actually invest in working on a solution to the problem. However, for many organizations, email has become a dominant form of communication and coordination. Much of the waste in our organizations suffer from problems in communication and coordination. You do the math. Lack of 5S in email is a bigger problem than most of us want to realize.
5S for Email
Do you have one (or more) of those e-mail accounts where the scroll bar is so small because the number of e-mails in your account is so large? Do you find yourself hunting through hundreds of messages to find the one you're looking for? If so, it is probably time to apply the 5Ss to your account.
Step 1: Sift
First things first, it's time to get rid of all of the messages that are old and obsolete. Be aggressive in this step. Don't keep messages that you know will never be returned. If there are attachments that need to be saved or printed, do so now. Get rid of as much as you can.
Step 2: Sweep
Since we're talking about computer applications, there really isn't the necessary cleaning activities that would be required in a physical workspace. Still this is a good time to make sure your e-mail pages have the appropriate toolbars and proper layout. Clean-up anything that doesn't look right.
Step 3: Sort
Now that what needs to be kept has been identified, the next task is to find a place for all of your e-mails. The easiest and most obvious way is to create folders based on tasks or other buckets of work where emails can be neatly filed for future use. The goal is to remove as much from your inbox as possible.
Step 4: Sanitize
This step is critically important as you will now set rules for yourself to keep your e-mail account clean. Some rules you may consider are setting a maximum number of e-mails in
your inbox. Once that number is exceeded, complete another sorting and sifting cycle. You can also set rules on how many emails are permissible in each folder. Another rule might be that any unopened e-mail will be automatically deleted after a certain number of days. The key is to set rules for yourself to keep things organized.
Step 5: Sustain
The final step in the process is setting up a quick audit process to make certain rules are being followed and your account is staying in good shape. In the beginning, this audit may need to be everyday to force the discipline to adhere. Overtime, it will become a learned way of working and you will be the envy of all your coworkers. Give it a try. You will no longer look at your e-mail workspace with dread and you will be far more responsive in replying to other's requests. At the very least, this exercise is a great way to apply one of the cornerstone lean tools to the knowledge world.
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