Email–a blessing and a curse. It’s a wonderful way to reach someone without having to play phone tag. It’s a wonderful way to deliver necessary information. And it’s also an easy way for other people to send you the information they want to send you. Work reports that don’t actually pertain to your work. Marketing from a store that you bought one thing from 3 years ago and you might go back to one day. Reply-alls from well-meaning individuals in a group email. And spam! Managing it all can be overwhelming. Here are a few tips to help you stay on top of your email.
Limit what comes in
It’s so easy to sign up for interesting and useful newsletters and subscriptions. Set up a separate email address for your newsletters and subscriptions that you can check on your schedule, not theirs. Be judicious about who you give your primary email address to. Use a spam service that automatically reduces the amount of spam you have coming into your inbox.
Segment incoming email
Use rules or filters to put incoming mail into pre-designated folders for the mail that you don’t have to respond to right away. Examples of this type of mail may be from professional groups that you belong to. Or perhaps you pay extra special attention to those groups and want to be able to see the moment a message comes in from one of those people. Separating their email automatically allows you to go straight to them.
Use search rather than scrolling through
A study done by people at the University of California Santa Cruz and IBM Research showed that using search was more effective when looking for an email than having your emails organized and segmented into folders and navigating to the email. And definitely more effective than looking for an email in a full inbox. Get used to using search terms that will quickly identify the email using senders, recipients, subject titles and if necessary, the text in the body of the message.
Turn off notifications
A great way to get work done is to focus on it without interruptions. An easy way to skyrocket your productivity is to turn off the notifications on your electronic devices. Of course, this is not applicable if you are on call. But for the rest of us, you’ve already decided what is important. You’re working on it. Don’t let other people’s emergencies pull you off target!
Check emails in batches
Set regular times to check your email and set a time limit on how long you will respond to emails for. Any task will expand to the length of time you give it. Stay focused. Respond to important emails right away. If an email will take more time to respond to than you have, schedule it as a task to complete later and send a reply email letting the sender know that you received their email and when they can expect a full response.
Inevitably there will be emails that do not require a response from you. Be religious about removing them from your inbox. The best way to remove them is in batches, rather than one at a time. You can set up an archive folder, or use the archive feature of your email program of you have one. If you archive the emails, you still have access to them if you need to go back to them at a later date, but they are not in your inbox.
Use tools to turn emails into tasks
Never use your inbox as a to do list unless you practice a zero inbox policy. It can be as simple as dragging an email to the task list (Outlook), or forwarding an email to a specific email address (Podio, Clarizen, Basecamp, Asana, and many others). Then you can be notified of due dates, assign the task to your team, and not worry about having to keep track of the email.
Use short, descriptive subject lines
Use short descriptions that describe the body of the message you are sending. If the conversation moves on to another topic, change the subject line. Encourage those who email you to do the same.
Write concisely. Not many people have the time, nor the inclination to read paragraphs on paragraphs of information. If there are actions that need to be taken, consider putting them at the beginning as a list, with any supporting information further down in the body of the email.
Change your view to Conversations/Threads
This is Gmail’s default view. It collects all the emails from one conversation and displays just one header in your list and shows you how many emails are in the conversation. It’s very useful for group emails where different people are replying to the same conversation. This view can be set up in all the major providers.
If you’re not already doing all of these, choose one or two to implement at a time. Treat managing your email as an ongoing project. If you want even more ideas or help implementing these ideas, give us a call at 310-806-2580!