Let's face it. Email is never going away. In fact email continues to be the primary and most effective form of communication in business despite the spam, texting and social media. Many people have simply transferred their Facebook, twitter and LinkedIn conversations into their email so they don't have to chase five different screens. Most smartphones help do this for you. This just means your email volume will continue to increase and if you don't stay on top of it you will forever feel buried and behind, not to mention you'll frustrate the people trying to communicate with you.
There is no need to panic. You can take control of your email and you don't have to be an engineer or tech savant to do it. Here are some simple tips you can implement immediately to manage your email process and be a master of efficiency.
1. Get rid of the junk. Of my average 400 emails per day, easily a third are spam. The rest are important messages I want to address in some manner. I hate spam filters because inevitably the critical email I needed gets stuck and that can mean lost money or opportunities. So I use the "Junk" file to capture most spam and scan it quickly twice a day. When the spam gets high, I make a point of unsubscribing for a week or so. Believe it or not this actually does reduce the junk by about 30 percent.
2. Set up smart folders. About 25 percent of my emails are some sort of advertising or less important notifications to which I stay subscribed. I call it Sale Mail. We all get forwarded these jokes, special offers from stores, group discounts and newsletters. These clog and clutter, and are a distraction when your mail alert chimes. In less than 10 minutes you can tell your email program to automatically move them into a specific smart folder. Then you can limit your perusal of that folder to once a day or at your leisure.
3. Use the cloud. I am an email packrat. I have email conversations going back to 1999. Some may find that extreme, but some of my best opportunities have happened from revisiting old correspondence. Rather than storing these files on a single computer, I store them in the cloud so I can access them anytime, anywhere. If you learn how to use simple sort and search features you can easily find any recent or old email by subject or sender. It almost eliminates the need to clear your inbox into files.
4. A clear day means a clear mind. If you want to keep email contact to a minimum, respond to everything within one day. After that people will get annoyed and likely start sending you more messages. If you make it a point to look at everything within 24 hours you'll have fewer surprises and less frustration. It's not always possible to make a full reply immediately, especially if it's a low priority request that you can't delegate. But when a request or notification is read, simply ask if they can connect with you the next day. By putting the onus on them, they'll remind you or manage the problem themselves. If it's something you really have to do, just type back, "I got this. Stay tuned." Then flag it to deal with when you are ready.
5. Use some copying etiquette. A lot of email comes from people copying others. Unfortunately, there is little discretion used when considering whom to copy. State your intentions to others in the team. Tell them to take you off the list if no longer interested or necessary. Move others to Bcc if they no longer belong in the conversation. And alert the others of the move.
6. Use signatures to save time. I often get solicited with column ideas and opportunities. For many of these, I have standard responses. I have built many of these responses into signatures and templates that I can post with 2 simple clicks. That way I don't have to spend time retyping text or trying to remember what to say.
7. Manage communication appropriately. Accept that email is probably your primary form of communication and it deserves focused time. That being said, it's not always the appropriate choice. If a topic is complex, or tempers are high, a face-to-face or phone call may be the better choice. The personal contact may actually reduce or replace the need for long email conversations. Too much email is not the culprit for poor productivity; it's a symptom of not delegating, poor communication, or trying unsuccessfully to multitask. Either integrate specific, focused emailing periods in your day, or set aside large blocks of time. If you can't get the rest of your work done then reexamine your responsibilities and communication protocols. Communication should always be a priority but effort is always required to make it useful and efficient.
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