Manage email effectively and be more productive.
It's Monday morning. As Linda sits down at her desk she experiences that familiar sinking sensation in her stomach... She's not dreading the day head of her - she's dreading her email inbox!
Linda's in charge of a large team, and she receives at least 50 emails every day. Reading and responding to all of this mail takes a long time, and most of her work takes back seat to this daily chore. As a result, she's notoriously behind on projects, and she's started coming in on weekends just to catch up.
When used appropriately, email is an incredibly useful communication tool. But, like Linda, many of us feel overwhelmed by the amount of mail that we receive and need to respond to.
However, there are ways to manage your email so that you're more productive. In this article, we'll explore strategies for doing this, so that you can get on with the real work at hand.
Checking your email regularly during the day can be an effective way to keep your inbox at manageable levels.
However, the constant interruption and distraction that comes from multitasking in this way can dramatically lower your productivity, and disrupt your ability to enter a state of flow when working on high value projects.
One strategy you can use is to check email only at set points during the day. For instance, you may decide that you'll only check your email first thing in the morning, before lunch, and at the end of the day.
Here, it helps to set your email software to "receive" messages only at certain times, so that you're not distracted by incoming messages. If you can't do this, at least make sure that audible and visual alerts are turned off.
You can also reserve time to read and respond to email after a long period of focused work, or at the time of day when your energy and creativity are at their lowest (this means that you can do higher value work at other times). Our article, Is This a Morning Task? will help you identify when you're feeling least energetic, so that you can schedule time appropriately.
If you're concerned that your colleagues, boss, or clients will be annoyed or confused that you're not responding to their email quickly, explain that you only check email at certain times, and that they can call you or use instant messaging if the matter is really urgent.
When it comes to reading email, you can waste hours if you don't use this time intelligently.
First, try using the "Two-Minute Rule" (a concept from David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done) - if the email will take less than two minutes (a quick read, and a short answer) then take care of it right now, even if it's not a high priority.
The idea behind this is that if it takes less than two minutes to action, then reading and then storing the task away "to do later" takes longer than it would to just take care of the task now.
For emails that will take longer than two minutes to read or respond to, schedule time on your calendar, or add this as an action on your To-Do List, to do later.
Most email programs will allow you to highlight, flag, or star messages that need a response, so utilize this handy feature whenever you can.
Can you imagine having an inbox with nothing in it? It almost sounds too good to be true!
Although a completely empty inbox (also called "inbox zero") might be unrealistic for many of us, keeping our main inbox cleared can make us more organized, and help eliminate stress.
Start by setting up a simple filing system to help manage your mail.
You could use broad categories titled "Action Items," "Waiting," "Reference," and "Archives." If you're able to stay on top of your folders - particularly "Action" and "Waiting" folders - you could use them as an informal To-Do List for the day.
If four categories sounds too simplistic for your needs, you can set up a more detailed system. For instance, you could create a folder for every project that you're working on, or have a set folder for each of your clients or sales reps.
The advantage to creating specific folders for processing email is that it makes searching for past mail easier. Instead of scouring your entire email system, you can simply search in that particular folder.
Most email programs, such as Outlook and Gmail, allow you to establish "Rules" to help with sorting email into particular folders.
For instance, you might get several emails per day notifying you of sales that your company has made. You want to receive these, because you want to see what's happening, but you don't want them to clutter your Inbox.
This is where you could set up a Rule in your email program that moves emails with "Sale Notification:" in the subject line straight to the "Sales Made" folder as soon as they come in. This frees up your time from filing these emails, and allows you to keep all of the sales emails in one folder.
If you regularly receive email such as newsletters, blogs and article feeds, consider having them re-routed to another email address, or use rules, so that they're instantly delivered to a particular folder.
This will help keep your primary inbox clear, and they'll be in one place, ready to read at a convenient time.
One of the best things that you can do, to limit the amount of email you need to process, is encourage your team to send you less.
For instance, if certain team members regularly send you long, drawn out emails, let them know. Tell them gently but firmly that because of the demand on your time, you'd appreciate emails no longer than a paragraph or two. Anything longer than that should warrant a phone call. Alternatively, they could drop by your office for a discussion.
Also, promote good email and communication strategies in your organization - encourage people to use the strategies highlighted in this article and in our Writing Effective Email and Using Instant Messaging articles.
Most of us feel overwhelmed by email. Although it's a great communication tool, more often than not it's overused. By managing it effectively, you can significantly boost your productivity.
To gain control of your inbox, start by checking and processing email only at certain times during the day. If you're concerned about the delayed response, let people know that you don't check your email constantly.
Also, try to keep your inbox as clear as possible. Organize mail using folders like "Action", "Waiting" and "Archives". And when you do check mail, use the two minute rule - any email that can be read and responded to in two minutes or less should be handled right then.
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