If your work life is divided into projects, then most of the information on your computer belongs to a particular project context. It’s usually one of the first things you try to assess when a new item crosses your desk: What is this about? How does it relate to the stuff I’m working on?
Once you figure that out, stop. Take an instant to make that association explicit. Put it in a folder, apply a tag, flag, or label, but do something to associate it with your work in progress. That simple act will save you time later. You won’t have to re-read the item to figure out what it is again. You’ll know what pile to stick it in if you get interrupted, and you’ll know where to look for it later.
I was reminded of this when I got a new cell phone recently. I felt like I was getting flooded with messages, but I knew I wasn’t getting any more mail than usual. I couldn’t figure it out. But then I caught myself at my desk one day, reading my mail again. And then it clicked.
On my old phone, I knew how to label and flag my incoming messages, but I hadn’t figured that out on my new phone yet. As a result, I found myself processing all my email twice. Once when it pinged my smartphone, and again at my desk later on, when I was planning my day.
Hey, I get enough email as it is. I certainly don’t need to double my mental workload.
Next time you get a message, assign it to one of your projects, through whatever method you like best. Establish the project context at the beginning so you never have to perform that mental triage again. It’s one of the simplest things you can do to streamline your work life.