Q. What are your recommendations regarding managing e-mail?
A. For most of us, e-mail is both a blessing and a curse. It makes asynchronous communications possible, which aids productivity. It acts as written documentation, and enables the busy entrepreneur to extend customer contact beyond normal business hours. It’s a wonderful tool. However, we have seen people completely overtaken by inboxes containing thousands of e-mails. How do you manage the constant flow of communications?
Here are a few tricks that will help you dig out from under this electronic pile:
Don’t treat e-mail like instant messaging – Do you feel like one of Pavlov’s dogs checking your e-mail each time the notification chimes or appears on your screen? If you want fewer interruptions in your workday, start with your e-mail. Turn off both visual and audible e-mail notifications. Instead, get in the habit of checking your email four to six times daily. An e-mail is not an instant message. Ask yourself, “If someone responded to me within an hour or two, would this be acceptable?” Most of us would say yes. If you need a faster answer, use text messaging or make a phone call.
Don’t use e-mail when other formats are more appropriate – While a great communication tool, e-mail is not always the best way to go. Use it to convey simple facts, (i.e., We will meet at 4 p.m.) or to document information (i.e., As discussed, we agree to the following). E-mail is not appropriate for complicated communications; discussions that require the parties to go back and forth many times; or for interactions that involve emotions, difficult or controversial topics, or where there are strained relationships between parties. Handle these face-to-face whenever possible or by phone when proximity makes this impossible.
Practice the four “Ds” of paper management – E-mail is an electronic form of paper and the same rules apply. When an e-mail appears, you can:
Do it – Act on the email immediately and then delete it.
Delegate it – Forward the e-mail to the appropriate person. If necessary, move the original e-mail to tasks and note a followup date.
Dump it – This is our personal favorite. Delete e-mails without opening if possible. Have a high standard for keeping e-mails–especially in your inbox. If it is important, but needs no action, use sub-directories to archive.
Delay it – Avoid this whenever possible. If you cannot manage the e-mail using one of the first three “Ds,” move the email to your task list with a follow-up date to ensure that it does not get lost.
Decrease the number you receive – Often the best defense is a good offense. Discourage others from sending you non-business e-mails. Get off distribution lists that no longer apply. Unsubscribe from communications you never read. Create a separate e-mail address that you use when purchasing items on the Internet.
Use filters and rules – Most e-mail programs allow users to direct e-mails from specified senders or those with specific words in the subject line directly to sub-directories or the trash. Learn to use these time-saving features. E-mail can be your best friend or a headache that gets bigger by the minute. These tested ideas will help you get your e-mail under control. These are just a few tips and tricks. We would love our readers to offer additional comments and suggestions.