Are you a list maker? I am.

When I’m feeling overwhelmed and pulled in many directions, my first instinct is often to uncap a fancy pen and create a to-do list. These lists help me set my chaos in order and make a plan for how to proceed. Writing things down gives myself permission to focus on one thing, instead of keeping everything active in my mind because I’m worried that I’ll forget something important. Another benefit? I think we can all agree that there are very few things more life-affirming and satisfying than crossing an item off of a to-do list. If you are a list maker too, I have a new twist for you to consider.

For my daily work management, I have implemented what I call a “to-talk” list that complements my to-do list. The idea is very simple, I create a heading for each person that I work with regularly. When an issue that affects them arises or I think of something that I need to discuss with them, I simply add it to their bullet list. You could, of course, just add “talk to Sarah about the meeting” to your to-do list, but I find that it works better for me to group ALL the things that I need to talk to Sarah about so that when I see her, I don’t overlook any of my discussion topics. I use this technique when I seek someone out, but I also use it when they come to see me. After we have discussed their issue, I check my to-talk list before they leave my office and bring up any other important subjects with them. In this way, I make efficient use of our time together and prevent things slipping first my mind and then right through the cracks. Maybe this idea can help your work management too?

Managing e-mail is an important skill in today’s workplace, and not having a good strategy for it can be a source of frustration not only for you but also for the people you work with.

One of the strategies that I have developed for a stress-free inbox uses Outlook conditional formatting to automatically color-code my e-mail. (Unfortunately, I haven’t found a way to do this in Gmail). With color-coding, I am very easily able to prioritize which e-mails need my attention first. This is my color code, but any version that makes sense for managing your e-mail will work:

  • Magenta—Messages from my boss. She will be expecting a quick response to whatever she has sent me, so I answer these first.
  • Bright Blue—Messages that are sent only to me. If an e-mail has been sent to me and me alone, it often contains important information or requests that are best dealt with quickly. I don’t want these messages to get overlooked, so I handle these as soon as requests from my boss are complete.
  • Black—Messages that are sent to me and other recipients. I read these, but only after I have dealt with messages in the first two categories.
  • Grey—Messages that I am only copied on. Many of us get copied on hundreds of emails that are good to have for our archive, but aren’t necessarily important to read. I leave these for the end of the day, and if they aren’t read by the time I go home, I ruthlessly archive them.

Conditional formatting can be a useful tool however you strategize and prioritize your e-mail management. See if color-coding can help you establish a low-stress method for managing your e-mail too. It won’t only help you. It will also help the people who are trying to communicate with you.