10 Tips for Managing Email Communication
Do you dread opening your email each morning? Trying to keep up with the demands of your inbox can be a challenge, but it shouldn’t be overwhelming. Effectively managing the time you spend on email isn’t about what’s best for everyone, it’s about finding what works for you.
Here are some tips you can try, or modify to fit your demands and preferences:
- Set aside time. Identify two to three chunks of 10-20 minutes a day when you can focus on checking and responding to emails, preferably not first thing in the morning, which can derail productivity. This doesn’t mean it’s the only time you can look at email during the day, just that you have allotted time for dealing with it.
- Winnow daily. Whether it’s during a break, or the end of the day, an uncluttered inbox will make you feel better, so make it a goal to get rid of stuff you don’t need – it’s liberating.
- Deal with it once. We are all guilty of scanning emails and letting them sit in our inbox for far too long. Break yourself of this habit. Once you open an email, deal with it. If you can read and respond in less than two minutes, just get it over with. If you’re not sure how to respond yet – file it.
- File. File. File. Email shouldn’t linger in your inbox. Set up a filing system that works for you and use it. Don’t make the mistake of creating too many folders – it’ll just get confusing. Three to four folders will suffice. Try a variation of “Action,” “Waiting” and “Archive” folder labels.
- Simplify and code. Use the flagging, labeling and/or color-coding features of your email. Yellow can mean whatever you’d like it to mean, just keep it consistent. If you must keep email in your inbox, make sure you only keep the most recent message with the full thread, not each individual message on the same subject. You can also consider if it’s worth the time to change the subject line of emails you want to file or archive so the email content is clear, without having to skim it.
- Use the search function. If you know you can rely on the search function of your email to retrieve what you’re searching for, you’ll be less likely to over-save stuff that “might” be important in your inbox or overload your “keep just in case” folder. Google Desktop does this well if the search feature within your email doesn’t impress you much.
- Don’t miss important dates. What about an email that needs to be added to your calendar or task list? Move it right away, don’t let it sit in your inbox. It will take you less than 1 minute to do this. Just copy and paste – it doesn’t have to look pretty or have the correct formatting, just move it directly from your inbox into your calendar or task list and you can modify it later. Not sure if it’s important enough to make your calendar? If there’s a chance it might be, don’t think twice, just add it, you can always delete it, or ignore it later.
- Take a deep breath, and hit “unsubscribe.” Unsubscribe yourself from anything that’s no longer relevant to you. That golf club you belonged to 5 years ago still sending you update emails? Click unsubscribe and you’ll eliminate the unwanted mail, time it takes to delete it and the guilt that comes with knowing you’ll never keep up with it anyways.
- Divert the news. Try to get RSS of blogs, newsletters or other material that’s delivered to your inbox so you can subscribe and sort through it with your Reader instead of clogging up your inbox. Change how news comes to you. Or, create a rule that filters all news items directly to a News folder, so it never mingles with your emails (or gets lost in the mix). If you’re using Outlook, click here for how to set this up.
- Is it necessary? Before you send that email or respond (again) on the same issue, ask yourself, would a phone call or visit be quicker? Or, can I table the issue and bring it up when we meet face-to-face next week? It’s so easy to just shoot off emails, so think before you hit send – no one likes an overfilled inbox.
How do you manage your email? What tips do you have to share?
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