What is one of the biggest time wasters leaders deal with on a regular basis? For many, it is the daily barrage of email. How much email do you send and receive each day? How much time is spent reading, writing, or responding to email? Here’s some practical advice for managing your email instead of letting it manage you.
This advice falls into three basic categories: Reduce the amount of email you send and receive, Send clear, concise messages, and Keep your inbox clean
Reduce the Amount
Sure, it sounds easy enough, but how do you do it? Believe it or not, the easiest way to reduce the amount of email you receive is to send less. The less email you send, the less you receive. Here are some ways to accomplish this goal:
- Pick up the phone. When you expect a conversation, don’t use email. Pick up the phone or get up and go talk to the person.
- Use cc: and Reply All sparingly. Only copy or reply to people who really need the information.
- Use No Reply Needed in the subject line or in your signature. Too many emails are sent just to say thanks or to let the sender know their email was received. If you don’t need someone to reply, let them know in a prominent spot.
- Create an alternate email address for junk mail. Create an email account to give out to people or companies you don’t need to interact with on a daily basis. Once a month, go to that account and do a quick scan to see if there’s anything you need to read or act on.
Send Clear, Concise Messages
Clear, concise messaging can dramatically cut down on the time we spend on email. Consider the following:
- Use descriptive subject lines. Help readers know the intent of your email in the subject line.
- Put required action in first paragraph. For example, you might type Approval needed, Information Only, or Need Help Immediately to let the receiver know what you expect.
- Only send email that’s okay to forward. If you wouldn’t want the message to be sent to others, use the phone or communicate face to face. It also helps to go with the assumption that your email will be permanently stored.
Keep Your Inbox Clean
Manage your email so your inbox stays empty. A full inbox is a major time waster. To keep your inbox clean, each time you open an item for the first time, do one of three things with it:
- Act on it. To act on an email, you can: handle it immediately; delegate it by forwarding it to another person; schedule it as a task for later; or schedule it as an appointment in your calendar. Once you have acted on it, either file it for later or delete it.
- File it. If you think you may need the email later, put it into a specific folder for that client, project, or individual. Consider saving attachments and deleting the email. If you are unsure whether you will need it later, create a 30- or 60-day Hold folder for items you might need to go back to. Periodically clean up this folder or simply set it up to automatically delete mail older than 30 to 60 days. If necessary, make a note on your to-do list or calendar to remind you where you filed the email.
- Delete it. If you don’t need the email after you’ve read or scanned it, simply delete it.
I hope you find one or more of these ideas for managing your email helpful in the New Year. Let me know any other best practices you use to manage your email.
About the author
John Hester is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in performance, productivity, and self-leadership.