E-mail is the most-used means of communication in the modern workplace, and e-mail overload is one of the most commonly cited frustrations.
Like managing your paperwork, managing e-mail is critical to your success.
Email Management Strategies
Some of these tips use the functions found in most email programs, and some of them are ways you can change your own habits. Both will improve your workflow and efficiency.
You aren’t as good at multitasking as you think you are – It takes about 10-15 minutes to refocus on a project after an email interruption.
#1 – Turn off Notifications – If your computer automatically notifies you with a sound or a pop-up when you receive email, turn that function off.
#2 – Schedule your email - A client of mine was in the habit of checking her email constantly throughout the day, yet she could not stay on top of it. My solution was to create a schedule for her to check three specific times during the day – 10:15, 2:30 and 5:30. She found to her surprise that this allowed her to clear her inbox each time she opened it.
For some people, checking email at the beginning and the end of the day is enough; some, like my client, need to schedule several times.
The key is to create a schedule and stick to it.
#3 – Encourage phone calls - Let people know that if they have something urgent, they should pick up the phone and call.
This works remarkably well. If the problem or crisis doesn’t fizzle out before it gets to you, it can often be resolved quickly and efficiently with a single phone call.
#4 – Delete first – Delete the messages you know are unnecessary as soon as you open your inbox. Do this even before you open high-priority or emergency messages.
You can probably tell from the subject line if an email is generic, auto-generated, or otherwise unimportant. Getting these out of your inbox first thing will make your inbox feel a bit more manageable immediately.
(Remember that your deleted messages stay in your trash until you empty it, so if you need one of those messages you deleted without reading, you can find it in your trash later.)
#5 – Do it now or delete it – As much as possible, act on or respond to your messages the first time that you read them. Don’t use your inbox as a to-do list – it’s the electronic equivalent of having piles on your desk.
#6 – Use folders & sub-folders - A good rule of thumb is to never have more than one screen of messages in your inbox.Spend a little time thinking about how you use your email, what is most important, and how you remember things. Some people like to file by dates, others use projects, and for some, folders for clients with subfolders for client-related projects is best. Use as many subfolders as you need to make items easy to find.
#7 – Close your email – Actually close or sign off from the program when you need to focus on something for an extended period of time.
Don’t worry, your email isn’t going anywhere, and it will all be there when you open it again after your task is finished, but it’s just too tempting to check your email, and can become a way to procrastinate. Give yourself a chance to actually get something done by closing email for the duration of the task and removing the temptation.
Finally, remember not to aim for perfection, and don’t make hard-and-fast rules for your email management strategy.
Choose some lifestyle changes that you feel comfortable making, and set some general rules for yourself, like the one about only having one page of messages in your inbox. It’s okay if it goes longer, but give yourself a limit, perhaps that your inbox will be no more than one page of messages by the time you leave the office on Friday night. Give yourself 20 minutes or so at the end of the day on Friday to go through your inbox and deal with as many messages as you can. It’s okay to leave some things, but reduce your inbox as much as possible.
If you can change even a couple of habits with these suggestions, you will discover how much more productive you can, and how much less stressed you feel!
Do you have any other tips on dealing with the email onslaught? How do you keep from being overwhelmed by your email? Has your company instituted any policies for reducing the amount of email generated?