Wednesday, January 27, 2016

6 Tips to Get Control of your Email

“I turn on my computer. I wait impatiently as it boots up. I go on line, and my breath catches in my chest until I hear three little words: You've got mail.”
-Kathleen Kelly (You’ve Got Mail, 1998) 

Ahhh, the good ole’ days! When waiting for dial-up had us all sitting on the edge of our seats. Just so we could see if anyone had emailed us that day. Now not a day goes by where we aren’t checking our email every minute of the day.

It’s even become the primary form of communication for most people. Email is fast, less intrusive than a phone call, and can be done from just about anywhere with technology at our disposal.

But when used inappropriately, email can take over our lives!

According to research released by the McKinsey Global Institute, more than one-quarter of a worker's day on average is spent answering and reading emails. It found that email is the second-most time-consuming activity for workers, next to "role-specific tasks." Reading and responding to every message can be draining. A cluttered inbox can be frustrating. And those little pop-ups telling you “you’ve got mail” can be mesmerizing. 

So here are SIX tips to get control of your email so it stops controlling you!

1. Set aside time to read and respond to email.

Notifications from incoming messages can interrupt your train of thought and leave you unfocused. Instead of constantly checking your email, schedule certain times of the day to do it. You might even try marking your calendar and setting your availability to “busy.”

At my last job, I would get an email approximately every 5-10 minutes. That’s anywhere from 50-100 emails for a standard eight-hour work day. I finally decided to track how much time I was spending on emails per day. I was floored to find out that it was almost half of my day. Half of my day!

That’s when I decided to set a schedule. I opted for three times per day for 30 minutes each. Once at the start of my work day, once after lunch, and once at the end of the day. I even put it on my calendar to block that time and set a reminder. It was a lifesaver!

The amount of time you require for reviewing and replying to emails will depend on how frequently you check messages and how many you typically receive. Some find it more effective to dedicate 10 minutes every hour to email. Others prefer to only check email just two or three times a day. Find what works best for you.

2. Turn off your notifications.

Some people prefer to turn off their email program completely. I don’t feel 100% comfortable with this since I use my calendar and task manager for reminders of meetings and deadlines. I also set reminders on my calendar to check my email. If my email program is shut down, then I don’t get those reminders. Thus sometimes messing up the schedule of my day.

So I turned off my notifications. The more pop-up notifications you see and alerts that you hear, the more distracted you are from your other tasks. Don’t forget to also turn off the envelope icon notification that can pop up in your lower task bar. As well as the “red bubble” notification on your apps {for Apple products}. 

3. Take action immediately.

First, browse your inbox for emails that can be immediately deleted, such as spam or promotional emails. Also look for emails that don’t require a response and can either be deleted or archived, such as new hire announcements or co-workers telling you there is free food in the kitchen {this is almost a daily occurrence for me}.

For those of you who are always hesitant to get rid of any emails… get over it. If you want to prevent your inbox from completely spiraling out of control, you can't be afraid to delete those messages that you know you're never going to need again. The more you delete, the cleaner your email account is. 

Next, look for those pesky little emails that require a response but don't involve a huge time commitment. Emails such as a friend firming up lunch plans or a client needing a document that is already completed. Responding to these should take almost no time at all. Letting them sit there and stack up can eventually make them more overwhelming then they should ever be.

Once you’ve pared down the number of emails in your inbox, you’ll be able to better evaluate which ones are the most critical. Don’t let important emails sit in your inbox for days. Unless you’re on vacation, you should always try to reply as soon as you’ve read the email. That way you don’t forget about them or are rushed to get back to them later.

If you’re unable to respond immediately, the standard rule is to reply within 48 hours. If you need more than 48 hours to be able to properly respond, then communicate to the sender that you received the message and will be in touch shortly. Set a deadline and follow up.

4. Turn off your “Mark as Read” function.

Some people may not know what I am referring to when I say your “Mark as Read” function.
This is when you click on an email to look over it or read it, and when you click off of it, it will now show that you have “read” it. Hence, no more alerting you that action still needs to be taken. Too many times I have had people tell me they didn’t see my email, or forgot that I sent an email, because they had this function turned on.

If you use shared email boxes with coworkers, you will definitely want to turn off this feature. Otherwise, emails will be marked as read and your coworkers will probably assume that you already took care of it {especially if they don’t tell you otherwise}.

Some people tell me that keeping this feature on helps keep them organized. But they always tend to be the ones that still miss emails or let them sit in their inbox for way too long. Please turn it off – for your sake and mine.


5. Organize your inbox with folders.  

I had a boss one time that had {I kid you not} over 5,000 emails in their inbox!

One of the reasons was because they didn’t want to delete anything in case they needed it later. The other reason was because they hated the idea of using folders. They thought it’s easier to be able to search the inbox if they needed to find an email. This was also the reason why several emails would be missed time and time again.

Although most emails can be deleted, you’ll most likely want to retain certain messages that you may need to reference again in the future. Create parent folders for broad subjects, then use subfolders to file emails related to specific clients, projects, events and tasks.

For example, I have one main email folder called "Animal Magnetism" {the event I am currently working on}. Underneath that folder, I have several folders for certain aspects of the event such as Auction, Marketing, Meetings, and Vendors. Within those subfolders, I typically have more subfolders. For example, in my Vendors folder I have a separate folder for each one of our vendors.

You can continue to add on folders as much as you want, but don’t get too carried away. You may have trouble finding emails if you get too specific.

6. Treat your inbox as your To-Do List.

The same boss that I had that never used folders, was also the same boss that treated their inbox as a dumping ground for emails. Do not treat your inbox as yet another storage folder.

Instead, reserve it for those things that you're currently working on or that you need to take action on. By doing so, your inbox becomes an actionable to-do list of sorts. You can open your email and easily see the things you need to take care of that may have required more time for you to complete.

What other tips do you use for keeping control of your inbox? I’d love to hear them!

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