Wednesday 30 March 2011

Strategies for Taming your Inbox!


When used appropriately, email is an incredibly useful communication tool. But many of us feel overwhelmed by the amount of mail that we receive and feel the need to respond to promptly.

However, there are ways to manage your email so that you're more productive. In this article, we'll explore strategies for doing this, so that you can get on with the real work at hand.

Note:
Keep in mind that these strategies may not work for everyone. So use your own best judgment when thinking about how to manage your email


Checking Email
Checking your email regularly during the day can be an effective way to keep your inbox at manageable levels. However, the constant interruption and distraction that comes from multitasking in this way can dramatically lower your productivity, and disrupt your ability to enter a state of flow when working on high value projects.

Check Email at Set Times
One strategy you can use is to check email only at set points during the day. For instance, you may decide that you'll only check your email first thing in the morning, before lunch, and at the end of the day.

Here, it helps to set your email software to download messages only at certain times, so that you're not distracted by incoming messages. If you can't do this, at least make sure that audible and visual alerts are turned off.

When to Check Email
You can also reserve time to read and respond to email after a long period of focused work, or at the time of day when your energy and creativity are at their lowest (this means that you can do higher value work at other times). If you're concerned that your colleagues, boss, or clients will be annoyed or confused that you're not responding to their email quickly, explain that you only check email at certain times, and that they can call you or use instant messaging if the matter is really urgent.

Note:
Clearly, in some roles, you will have to check email on a regular basis, especially if your business uses email as its main communication tool. As with all of these strategies, use your judgment, based on your circumstances.

Reading Email
When it comes to reading email, you can waste hours if you don't use this time well.

The Two-Minute Rule
First, try using the "Two-Minute Rule" (a concept from David Allen, the author of "Getting Things Done") - if the email will take less than two minutes to process (a quick read, and a short answer) then take care of it right now, even if it's not a high priority.

The idea behind this is that if it takes less than two minutes to action, then reading and then storing the task away "to do later" takes longer than it would to just take care of the task now.

Schedule Time
For emails that will take longer than two minutes to read or respond to, schedule time on your calendar, or add this as an action on your To-Do List.

Most email programs will allow you to highlight, flag, or star messages that need a response, so utilize this handy feature whenever you can.

Tip:
Many of us get lots of internal notifications. These are those "FYI" emails from the corporate office or team members who want to keep us "in the loop." If you see your name in the cc field instead of the To field, chances are it's an FYI email. Consider filing it in a To Read folder, and tackle it when you have time.

Organizing Email
Can you imagine having an inbox with nothing in it? It almost sounds too good to be true! Although a completely empty inbox (also called "inbox zero") might be unrealistic for many of us, keeping our main inbox cleared can make us more organized, and help eliminate stress.

Filing Email
Start by setting up a simple filing system to help manage your mail.

You could use broad categories titled "Action Items," "Waiting," "Reference," and "Archives." If you're able to stay on top of your folders - particularly "Action" and "Waiting" folders - you could use them as an informal To-Do List for the day.

If four categories sounds too simplistic for your needs, you can set up a more detailed system. For instance, you could create a folder for every project that you're working on, or have a set folder for each of your clients or sales reps.

The advantage to creating specific folders for processing email is that it makes searching for past mail easier. Instead of scouring your entire email system, you can simply search in that particular folder.

Tip:
An alternative approach is to use a good PC-based search tool like Google Desktop Search - this makes it really easy to search for emails and other documents.

The best approach to use can depend on how quickly you need to access a specific email. If you need instant access (for example, if clients often call you to discuss emails) you may want to file into folders. If you don't, then desktop search may be all that you need.

Using Rules
Most email programs, such as Outlook and Gmail, allow you to establish "Rules" to automate sorting email into particular folders.

For instance, you might get several emails per day notifying you of sales that your company has made. You want to receive these, because you want to see what's happening, but you don't want them to clutter your Inbox.

This is where you could set up a Rule in your email program that moves emails with "Sale Notification:" in the subject line straight to the "Sales Made" folder as soon as they come in. This frees up your time from filing these emails, and allows you to keep all sales emails in one folder.

Non-Essential Email
If you regularly receive email such as newsletters, blogs and article feeds, consider having them re-routed to another email address, or use rules, so that they're instantly delivered to a particular folder.

This will help keep your primary inbox clear, and they'll be in one place, ready for you to read at a convenient time.

Tip:
You can make a world of difference for your colleagues, boss and clients by writing effective emails. This will not only save them stress and frustration, but succinct, relevant emails can also save an enormous amount of time - yours and theirs.

Good Team Habits
One of the best things that you can do, to limit the amount of email you need to process, is encourage your team to send you less.

For instance, if certain team members regularly send you long-winded emails, let them know. Tell them gently but firmly that because of the demand on your time, you'd appreciate emails no longer than a paragraph or two. Anything longer than that should warrant a phone call. Alternatively, they could drop by your office for a discussion.

Also, promote good email and communication strategies in your organization - encourage people to use the strategies highlighted in this article. .

Key Points:
Most of us feel overwhelmed by email. Although it's a great communication tool, more often than not it's overused. By managing it effectively, you can significantly boost your productivity.

To gain control of your inbox, start by checking and processing email only at certain times during the day. If you're concerned about the delayed response, let people know that you don't check your email constantly.

Also, try to keep your inbox as clear as possible. Organize mail using folders like "Action", "Waiting" and "Archives". And when you do check mail, use the two minute rule - any email that can be read and responded to in two minutes or less should be handled right then.

You can also reduce your incoming mail by asking people to send you less, and by advocating effective email and communication strategies in your organization.


This article is reproduced from Newsletter 184, issued by www.mindtools.com

1 comment:

pixymagic said...
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