Why is tackling e-mail important? The amount of e-mail that we deal with can sometimes seem overwhelming. It is a symbol for how much communication is required to run effective organizations. According to FranklinCovey, the average executive spends 1.5 to 2.5 hours per day on e-mail. Adam Grant recently cited studies that show we check email 74 times per day on average. So how could we develop a better relationship with this volume of communication?
Here are some techniques that will help you move toward the ideal of inbox zero (completely emptying your inbox at least once daily):
- Develop a healthy e-mail routine. When, where and how will you tackle your daily email? The right answer is not going to be checking your email continuously. For many of you, one time per day in a place where you can give it your total focus is the right answer. However, if you are a salesman, and you know that your customers require responsiveness, that type of spartan routine will not work for you. Think it through and develop a rational, healthy routine that you can stick to most days.
- Turn off all e-mail reminders. When you are done counters, envelope icons, slowly appearing synopsis of an email that pop up etc., etc., etc. should be wiped off your desktop and phone. I once taught a time management course in Bellevue, Washington very close to Microsoft headquarters. During a discussion of email, I urged them to turn off all reminders. One of the employees in attendance disclosed that he developed the envelope feature during his time at Microsoft and felt deep regret about the impact that it had on people’s ability to focus. I agree. Turn them all off, unless your rationalized routine requires it.
- Setup your email program to open to your prioritized daily task list instead of your E-mail inbox. You should be prioritizing your day. Do not let whatever email shows up first set your priorities.
- At least one time each day, clean your inbox out entirely. Your inbox is not a place to save information, tasks, obligations or contact information. There are other places for that information. Get it where it belongs.
- Delete all emails that you don’t need immediately. Be clear about how you define need? Email hoarders have many of the same downsides as real life hoarders i.e. they cannot find what they need, they spend time trying to organize and reorganize items of little value etc.
- Get yourself out of e-mail groups, newsletters etc. that have limited or no value. Be brutal about ensuring that you are getting plenty of value out of all communications that you volunteer to be a part of.
- Any email that you deem valuable to keep longer term should be stored in special folders. Keep only what you need. Make only the special folders that you require / keep them to a minimum. It is too easy for complicated folder structures to get out of hand and for things to get lost.
- Declare war on spam. Unsubscribe and mark as junk relentlessly.
- Many of the things that you get in your inbox are tasks to be done, meetings to be set up or may be a new contact that you would like to put into your contacts. All of the major e-mail applications have simple methods to create tasks, appointments and contacts directly from an e-mail with ease. Research how to do it and use it consistently for a burst of additional productivity.
- Let your e-mail application handle your email for you:
- Set it up to prioritize your emails by color for easy email triage. For example, your boss or an important customer may be turned red based upon the incoming email address. Another example might be, making a special color for items sent only to your email, which may denote an email of significance.
- Setup rules to send items to boxes. For example, newsletters could go to a “to read” folder, which can be cleaned out when you have time to read.
- Setup rules to delete unneeded things. For example, “out of office” messages are generally visible within your scheduling application, so a second one emailed to you isn’t terribly useful. Emails of meeting acceptances aren’t terribly useful. Generally, I want to know only about maybes and declines.
Make these changes and get back a little bit more of your sanity. Let me know how it goes.
Just my opinion. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.
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