Take back your life!
Tips for taking control of your email.
By Susan B. Shapiro, Bralan Consulting LLC
Chances are you’re one of those people who is drowning in email. Maybe you’ve even tried some of the advice that’s been bandied about: set aside an hour a day where you aren’t interrupted; set aside Fridays; stop using email, etc .
First the facts, otherwise known as: Why should you read this article?
In David Robinson’s June 12, 2008 WSJ review of Maggie Jackson’s book Distracted, he quotes her as saying that “researchers have found that workers “typically change tasks every three minutes” and “take about twenty-five minutes to return to an interrupted task . . . usually plugging into two other work projects in the interim.” By one estimate, “interruptions take up to 2.1 hours of an average worker’s day and cost the US economy $588 billion a year.”
Yes, these distractions include reading and managing your email.
So, there’s no better time than now for you to take charge of your email.
How, you may ask? It’s really not that hard. You need to de-clutter your inbox, and manage your emails both as they’re received and after you read them.
De-clutter your Inbox
Get rid of those emails you never read once and for all!
You know the ones I mean – that newsletter you signed up for which is no longer relevant/you aren’t really interested in/you never had time to read; those emails you receive from someone you don’t know who’s inviting you to all of their events – in another state (they took your email address from another mass mailing, probably sent by a friend of yours).
- The majority of those emails that you subscribed to have an ‘unsubscribe’ option. So, instead of just deleting those emails, open one up and scroll to the bottom to follow the unsubscribe instructions – you’ll either be asked to click on “Unsubscribe” or to reply to the email with “Unsubscribe” in the Subject field of the email. Do it! It will mean one less email to have to delete every day/week.
- For that mass mailing that doesn’t offer an unsubscribe option – the one received from a friend of a friend who added you to their mailing list – just reply to sender with a request to be removed from their list.
Manage your incoming mail
Regardless of whether you use Outlook or a web-based email (e.g., Gmail, Yahoo, etc) you can set up rules to manage your emails as they arrive by having them automatically filed upon receipt. This will allow you to easily find them and focus on which ones need to be read immediately.
Huh? How does this help?
Well, here are some examples of ways in which you can use automatic filing to not only organize your emails, but to efficiently manage your time.
- Want to be sure to respond to the boss immediately? No problem. You can set a rule so that all of her emails go to a specific folder that you look at first. You can name that folder anything you want – Jane’s emails; Immediate Action; Important, etc
- Need to prioritize only emails which are addressed to you? Create a rule where all emails that you are copied on (your name appears in the Cc field) go to a folder that you will look at when you have time.
- Managing a specific project? Have all emails pertaining to the relevant project sent to a specific folder.
Now that you get the idea you probably want to know how to do it.
Outlook: Click on Tools->Rules and Alerts In the window that opens click New Rule and the Rules Wizard will provide you with the options necessary to create a rule.
Web-based email: Depending on the program you use, click on Settings (e.g., in Gmail) or Options (e.g., in Yahoo Mail) -> Filters. Then, depending on your email program, click on Create a Filter or Add. As in Outlook, choose the information that meets your needs.
Okay, now you’re ready to start managing your email after it arrives.
Most importantly, do not open an email until you’re ready to deal with it. In general, emails should be touched once: read it, process it and move on. How many times do you open an email, glance at it and decide you really don’t have time to focus on it now, so you close it and return to what you were doing?
As Daniel Markovitz said in his article A Productivity Paradigm published in the July 2008 issue of The New York Enterprise Report, “you need to ‘give yourself enough time to deal with all of the messages.’ In other words, ‘process e-mail, don’t check it.’”
Process the email when you read it. Okay, so what exactly does that mean? It means take the appropriate action at the time that you first open the email.
- Does someone else need the information? Forward.
- If the information in the email is useful to someone who was not copied on the email then forward it to that person(s). Then, you need to take another action – file or delete.
- Does the sender need a response? Reply.
- If the email warrants a response then reply to the sender. If you were one of many recipients you need to make a conscious decision whether to reply just to the sender or to everyone on the email.
- Do not automatically reply to all if it’s not warranted! You know what I’m talking about. You receive an email addressed to 10 people that asks you to let the sender know if you’ll be attending the holiday party. All you need to do is reply to the person that sent it that you’ll be there. There is no need to reply to all. Then, you need to take another action – file or delete.
- Do you need the information for a later date? Flag for Follow Up.
- If the information in the email is needed for an upcoming meeting, or requires action at a later point in time then you should flag it, setting a reminder to alert you at the appropriate time.
- Do you need to retain the information? Move to Folder.
- If the information is relevant to a specific project or individual, and was not filed upon receipt (i.e., it was not set up with a rule for filing) then file it before closing.
- None of the above? Delete.
- If you do not need to keep the email for its content, then don’t! Don’t be afraid, you really do not need to keep every email you receive. For example, that email you receive that says ‘thanks for the information I’ll speak to you soon’ should be deleted as soon as you’ve read it.
You can also control which information is received/synced on your PDA. When setting up your PDA be sure to use the filter option to receive only those emails you absolutely need when on the go. You can also use filters to narrow the number of items that are synced in your calendar, contacts and tasks.
- Most programs will complete an email address as you type it. MAKE SURE IT’S THE CORRECT ONE before hitting Send.
- In Outlook, manage new emails from the “Unread Emails” folder instead of your Inbox. This will allow you to easily view all new messages whether or not they were filed upon receipt.
Susan B. Shapiro is the owner of Bralan Consulting LLC. She assists you in finding the right technology for your needs, as well as teaching you to be efficient and comfortable with the technology you use.
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