Invoices, staff coordination, transportation troubleshooting, inventory — sometimes aiming for supply chain efficiency isn't so much a matter of a few course-corrections as it is a full-on, plate-spinning balancing act. You can't afford to stop and assess most days, though. The speed of commerce doesn't come with pit stops built in.
The best way to keep from skidding out in your high-speed workflow is to make sure the communication and organization systems you have in place are smooth, intuitive and resilient, after occasional tweaks here and there. And all of that starts with your inbox.
If you wince just thinking about that little number in parentheses next to your inbox header, it's time to cut down on new message and filing anxiety with a few of these secrets.
Figure Out What You Want From Your Email
Seems simple enough, right? Not so fast — the correct answer isn't something as easy as basic communication. Consider what you use your email to do each day and write down any points where your inbox feels like an obstacle.
In Grasshopper, Mary Mallard notes that uncovering and naming these inbox frustrations enables you to actually solve the problem instead of finding slapdash workarounds in the name of time constraints. If you know, for example, that you can never seem to find emails from a certain supplier or get your inbox to list previous correspondence for context's sake, you can look for targeted solutions rather than an oversimplified organizational system that may or may not solve the problem.
Tools such as browser add-ons for major provider inboxes or third-party apps for mobile platforms can help with filtering and search options that may not come standard.
Learn The System
You wouldn't let an employee drive warehouse equipment if they weren't certified and licensed, nor would you just "puzzle out" a new piece of WMS software if there was a guide available, so why wing it when it comes to your inbox?
Email, at its base level, is very straightforward, but the points of differentiation between, for example, Yahoo and Gmail as inbox providers rest on user-friendliness and intuitive programming. Email inbox systems are literally built to make your life easier, and if you haven't sought out the shortcuts by now, it's past time that you did.
Joe Stych of Zapier recently discussed the finer points of Gmail keyboard shortcuts, including how to toggle them on and off, as part of a larger how-to for getting the most out of Gmail. Even if your company uses a business-focused provider or a proprietary system, chances are you aren't aware of all the shortcuts and time-saving "hacks" available to help automate your inbox.
The Digital Circular File
Thirty years ago, with supply chain efficiency efforts relegated to physical products and warehouse movements only, the desk of a supply chain manager might have been piled high with papers. Now, thanks to cloud technology and the Internet of Things, that messy desk has been digitally stuffed into every internet-enabled device in the office, clearing off the desk, but creating clutter of a different variety.
Just as you need to comb through physical files at regular intervals to prevent overflow, email should be purged on a fairly regular basis to keep your inbox clean and accessible. This can be done in whatever way works best for your business, from a full-on mass purge — which Jessica Stillman of Inc. describes as email bankruptcy, where every email is periodically deleted from an inbox — to monthly prunings of spam or outdated messages.
Supply chain efficiency relies at least partially on speed — quick contact, fast research and rapid response to prevent supply chain disruption in the event of a problem. If your inbox is something you dread using or only use when you absolutely have to out of frustration, you're working around a tool, not with it.
Take the time to learn the ins and outs of your inbox and you'll be surprised at what an excellent assistant it makes for daily operations.