How to be productive with e-mail
Email has given us another way of communicating faster than snail mail and less intrusive than a phone call. It’s because of this speed we expect immediate responses without considering others agenda and often mistake an email for a lengthy chat. We want instant gratification. We want actions now. And by following this pattern we tend to give our control to others by always checking emails every second of the day.
Solutions for managing your inbox that can help all of us be more productive at work:
Schedule a time to read your emails.
The best time to attend your emails is from noon on. Why mid-day?
Because by this time you have been able to complete some of your duties without being subjected to attend someone else’s request that can take your focus away of your main task for the day. You can even set an auto reply stating this and if there is an emergency to contact you by phone. You can write something like this:
“I will be checking my emails by noon and will reply within 24 hours. If you need immediate attention or in case of emergency please contact me at (999)999-9999, thank you.”
Ideally set a few blocks of time during the day to answer your emails. Make sure to set a timer and give yourself 30 to 45 minutes. This way you strictly dedicate this time to just working on your emails without interruptions. Again don’t schedule reading emails first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. Schedule your email reading time block maybe mid-morning and midafternoon. I also wrote up an in depth guide on this point: “how to avoid and eliminate distractions”
Attend emails in the order they arrived
Don’t jump to that interesting subject line or skip that email that you don’t have interest in working with. Unanswered e-mail stay with you and will always be a distraction. By attending email in order you work in small batches. By doing this you will eliminate being behind on working your emails daily or every two days.
Turn off the email notifications
Every time you hear that buzz or whatever sound you have set for your email notification, you will be curious about what email just came in. Truth is that we are always in places and situations where we can’t really respond or give it the needed attention. If it is something you really can’t attend to at the moment it will take you out from concentrating on the current task you are on.
That happened to me the other day. I was going to the gym and I checked my work email on my phone and there was an email that took my focus from working out. I was so distracted that I couldn’t finish my gym class and left early. In the end I couldn’t resolve the issue the email was about and I ended not completing my gym class.
Another thing you can do is to set up your email to be downloaded either manually or several times in the day not just every second. This way it will remove the temptation of you to be looking at the email just keeps arriving to your inbox.
Eliminate email clutter
- As soon as you read the email take action. If it’s an email that needs work to be done you can move it to your tasks folder with a schedule time for reply. Set it up with a reminder.
- Delete those emails that are completed are simply junk.
- Create folders with categories so that your emails will be sorted for you automatically. This is something you can have your email software do for you when you set it up in the email settings.
- Create folders with the names of people you always get emails this way you have their emails go directly to their folder and you can have them separate from everyone else’s.
- Color code your emails. Categorize the color based on importance. An example red could read for immediate action, Green for save to access later, Yellow for reply next day, etc.
- Don’t just scan through emails by glancing through them. Work each one at a time and on the day they arrive if possible.
- Don’t “cherry pick” the emails with the most interesting subject. If you start skipping through the emails you will end up with an inbox with unread emails from past days.
Be precise with your e-mail response
When replying to emails and sending emails be as precise as you can be with the subject you are discussing. Don’t send a long-winded email explaining details that aren’t necessary. Be courteous to others as they are in the same boat as you trying to stay afloat with all the emails they receive too. Therefore, go straight to the point with your request, questions or replies. You can even use the email’s subject line to send your answer or communicate. An example could be:
“Schedule completed. EOM” (end of message) Include EOM at the end of you subject line and the receiver will know the end of the message and the email page was left blank purposely.
I know that there are a few of you out there that are outsourcing this task to someone else, which is the ideal thing to do when possible. So if you outsource your email handling, kudos to you! If not, stick to these tips for managing email overload syndrome.
In conclusion, be smart about working your inbox. Spend just the necessary time to send and reply emails and be as efficient as you can. Don’t let your inbox control your day and take you away from your 80/20 Rule.
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