I get so much email these days based on the many different things I am involved with professionally, socially and out of interest, I know I have to be organised. Given that more and more organisations are limiting the size of our inboxes I thought I would share with you some of the tips and techniques I use to keep my inbox virtually empty.
I know there are rules for minimizing our emails. These usually look something like this:
· Use thoughtful headings so people know what they are going to be reading about and why they should do so
· Keep the email short and to the point
· Don’t go into email loop whereby you keep replying to each other
· Don’t REPLY ALL if not everyone needs to stay in the loop
· Don’t send to all and sundry if they are not directly involved in the conversation
· PICK up the phone if what you really need is a quick answer or decision
· Don’t keep everything “just in case”
You get the idea?
Not everyone follows these rules, so we don’t always have control over what comes in. How we deal with email is what keeps us organised.
Some active hints:
· Where possible, turn Your Email Notification Off
If your email program checks for new emails automatically, turn it off. Having a constant beeping sound when new emails come in can be very distracting and will make you lose focus – this in turn wastes time and causes you to be less efficient and effective.
· Stop Constantly Checking Your Emails
Being at the beck and call of your emails will drain you of time and energy. Diarize to deal with your email at certain intervals during the day and avoid the temptation to keep checking your inbox every few minutes. Unless you’re waiting for an important email there is no reason to keep ruining your productivity with this nasty trap that so many of us fall into!
· Keep Your Inbox Clean
Don’t use your inbox as an archive, hanging on to every single email ‘just in case’ you might need it. If you must keep certain emails, create a folder and file them as soon they have been dealt with. Opening up an inbox full of stuff that you don’t need is energy-drain that impacts on our focus and productivity. Keep your inbox as clean as possible – aim for empty by clearing out regularly.
· Create Templates
Stop keep writing the same type of email over and over again. If you find yourself sending similar emails create a template or draft email and use this to save time.
· Pick Up The Phone – did I say that already?
Be selective in your use of email and always question whether picking up the phone or meeting someone would be a more effective way to communicate. Resist the temptation to rely solely on email – it’s a great tool, but it isn’t appropriate for all situations.
So, back to keeping your inbox to a minimum
· Set up a good folder system – mine has folders for school, sports, crafts and hobbies, professional, projects, friends, family and so on, with subfolders underneath (including and “archive” folder for each if I find I need to keep things “just in case”
· Use an online calendar system so that when an arrangement is made or meeting organised the details can be transferred to that. I also use a calendar to note to self when I need to do something by, similar to Project Management processes
· If it is relevant some of you might need to create a “to do” list (like in Outlook) where again you read the email, note the action required, when by etc. and move the email out of your inbox, in to one of those folders
· Set aside a regular time to deal with your email – uh, I think I said that before, right?
What does YOUR inbox look like now? How do we turn it around?
Pretend you have been on holidays. What do you come back to (assuming it is away from your email)? If you want to start reducing your inbox here are some steps to follow:-
You need to be able to see the wood for the trees in your sea of emails so the first step to recovery is to filter the ‘From’ column in your inbox so that you can clearly see who your emails are from in order to work out your priorities.
You will have pockets of emails that you receive purely because you’re on a distribution list or have subscribed to a newsletter for example. Some of those will be important, but a lot won’t.
Depending on how long you’ve been away for, many of those emails may be out of date or irrelevant by the time you get to read them, some may have been there from before you went! Get delete-happy! Be ruthless, brutal and quick – cast your eye over the ‘From’ list and hit delete on any newsletters that aren’t critical to your goals or job, and any distribution-list emails that are old and out of date.
Importantly, get rid of the dead wood so that you can see clearly and prioritize effectively. By deleting as much of the irrelevant routine stuff as possible you will allow your mind to focus on what is important rather than being distracted by a screen of chaos.
As your screen becomes clearer, you’ll start to get a sense of what’s in your inbox that’s actually important. Think about the purpose of your email and prioritize accordingly. Create those folders I mentioned above and move things into them if you need to.
Once you’ve identified your priorities, work through your emails in that order and importantly only ‘touch’ each email once where possible. What I mean by that is that once you’ve read an email take action on it there and then, and then move on. As you read each email, deal with it. Whether you send a quick reply if that is all is required; note a time and place on your calendar if it is a meeting or a time sensitive action to be taken; and then delete it. Move it to the relevant file if you cannot delete it.
· Be Time Aware
Finally, so that you don’t let your whole day fade away into an email-abyss, make sure you block out a set amount of time in your diary to deal with your “holiday” inbox, and keep to that timeframe without fail. The longer you give yourself, the longer you’ll take – so be ruthless, and push yourself to get on top of your email quickly.
Managing our inboxes seems such a basic thing, but is one which often gets away from us. By staying abreast of what comes in, and focusing on the important and time sensitive notifications, handling (reading) emails only once, keeps us on track in our professional lives. We all know we have too many balls in the air. I suggest we put some of those balls into folders and work on the appropriate folder without the distractions of those electronic “beeps” calling us to read them first.
Does EMAIL still even count as an issue? We are also monitoring our Twitter Streams, Facebook accounts, LinkedIn profiles, RSS feeds, G+ circles and the ever increasing ways of receiving information as well as requests to DO something or BE somewhere.
How do YOU stay on top of it all?
Vikki Bell of Bellinfom Research supports the ALIA Sydney committee behind the scenes.