by Peter Turla, www.Timeman.com
If you live by e-mail, it’s easy to die by e-mail. E-mail fatalities come in many forms, and one of the most common is drowning. Here are some email time management tips that will help you stay afloat and swimming in the right direction through that flood of messages vying for your attention.
Keep your “business” e-mailbox as lean as possible. Having too many emails in your in-box is like having a pile of papers on your desk. It can be stressful just thinking about all that “stuff” you have to deal with.
Take time to get it organized. Create electronic folders so you have a place to keep messages sorted by subject or client or project. Plan your filing. Don’t use your In-box or “Sent Mail” as a huge miscellaneous file or everything will run together and get out of hand.
If you keep things organized in your email program, they’ll also be better organized in your mind. Just don’t get carried away with making too many folders.
Here’s a list of a few more ideas you can use to better handle email.
- Decide what action or response is necessary whenever you read e-mail. By deciding right away, you save time not having to reread it and rethink what it’s about. Handle e-mail once when possible.
- Once you’ve read an email, make one of these four decisions. Your four choices all start with a “D”.
Choice 1. Dump it. (Do this unless you have a good reason not to.)
Choice 2. Delegate it. (Forward it to someone else to look over or deal with it.)
Choice 3. Delay it. (Delay if you’re waiting for more information or delay if it’s a time-consuming, trivial request. If the sender resends request, beg forgiveness and do it.)
Choice 4. Do it.
- Use the “Tools, Organize” or “Tools/Rules” function in your e-mail program to color-code incoming e-mail from your boss or key team members so they stand out from the others.
- Create an “Action Items” folder for important e-mail that needs attention. Review the items in this file daily and save them to your hard drive or delete them when you’ve finished them.
- Glance at all new e-mail “Subject” lines and delete the junk mail as you go. As you do this, look for the important ones that you’ll read.
- If your e-mail system can organize messages according to “threads,” read the last message first in a thread that deals with a particular subject. Many times you won’t need to read the previous ones.
- Before you set up auto-filing features consider whether urgent mail might wind up being auto-filed before you see it.
- Avoid getting on lists for jokes, cute stories, etc. If you like to receive this kind of material, set up an auto-filing function to send them into special files that you can review at your leisure.
- Avoid compulsively checking your email. Checking it too often could be a way to escape or avoid what you should really be doing. Unless you’re on a team with constant hot mails going back and forth, determine a reasonable frequency for checking your e-mail.
- Learn to discipline yourself to focus on the task at hand and not feel compelled to open every email as soon as it comes in. You should attempt to work until you come to some kind of natural break or stopping point before you check your email so you can keep a good work flow and momentum going.
- If you have to keep complete records of e-mail correspondence, save your “Reply” e-mail. When you reply to people’s e-mail, a copy of their entire e-mail is automatically included in the reply.
- Use one address if you register for something on the Internet (which might attract spam), another for business, and another for personal use.
- Regularly purge your e-mail of outdated and unnecessary messages. Archive e-mail that you need to keep for historical reasons.
Changing your method for dealing with email takes time and effort, but it’s worth it. Reread this article and pick one or two of the ideas to start on right now. Remember the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin, who said “Never put off until tomorrow that which you can do today.”