I was reading this post at Tim’s blog, 10 Steps to Becoming an Email Ninja. It has a bunch of great tips to help you deal with e-mail. Where I work, e-mail is by far the preferred mode of communication. It is used, overused and often abused. Even after trimming down all useless email sources, I get 100-200 work-related messages daily. This is not something I am proud of, but it is a fact I must deal with.
Throughout the past 7+ years working there, I’ve adopted a few strategies to help me deal with e-mail overload. Whether you are dealing with hundreds of e-mails daily, or just trying to manage the few weekly messages you get in a more efficient and thorough way, these tips should help.
- Opt-Out Of Non-Critical Communication: People feel that being in the “know” means they should be subscribing to every mailing list under the sun. As a personal experiment, I discontinued my TV cable service years ago (I just watch DVDs now), and stopped most magazine subscriptions (except Yoga Journal)…yet I seem to be quite well informed about critical issues. At work, I have removed myself from dozens of distributions lists full of chatter. I understand full well that if there is something truly salient and critical to my job or personal life going on, that my social or work network will let me know about it somehow. I get more information from asking smart questions, being aware of my surroundings and listening than I ever did reading tons of news-related mail.
- Write In A Clear And Concise Manner: Successful people communicate important information in a clear and concise manner. Verbosity just muddles the point and wastes everyones time.
- Sort E-Mail By Conversation: If you are using an email client like Outlook, choosing a default inbox view of sorting messages by Conversation is highly effective. It helps you see the full context of a message before acting on it.
- Auto-Filter Non-Critical Messages: If you are subscribing to newsletters, lists or other non-critical information sources, setup filters to move these messages out of your inbox immediately. I have a folder for “news” that collects 5-10 messages a day from various trade publications and research sources. I’ll skim through these messages once or twice a week if at all and save messages that are worthwhile.
- Turn Off Mail Notifications: This is big time saver, if you can do it….since it takes a lot of discipline. Most e-mail programs provide notifications to announce new incoming mail. Outlook, for example, which show a pop-up preview of the mail in addition to a little mail icon in your system tray. Turn these off. In the majority of cases, they will just distract you from your work. It is generally more efficient to batch process e-mail, and checking your inbox to read every incoming message is a flagrant waste of mental energy.
- Take Care Of Little Things Right Away: If I read a message that I think will take 2 minutes or less to address, I do it right away. Reading a mail means that I have already invested some time into the issue, and instead of switching context to some other project, and then coming back to the same message later in the day, I just take care of it immediately. I’ve found that processing these little requests right away keeps me from feeling overwhelmed with many little work items to take care of at the end of the day.
- Give Others A Chance: Don’t feel like you need to be the first person to respond to an e-mail thread with the answer. Let others contribute before pitching in your own $.02. In some cases, the issue with resolve itself with any involvement from you.
- Get Clear On The Request: Email is used to request and deliver information. If someone has requested something from you, take a few moments to consider if their request is clear. If not, don’t spend another minute dealing with the issue until you are clear. In the process of getting clear about what they want, the requester might even discover the solution on their own (this has happened to me many times).