Email is both a blessing and a curse -- enhancing our productivity and overwhelming us at the same time. It makes asynchronous communications possible. Email acts as written documentation, and enables the busy entrepreneur to extend customer contact beyond normal business hours. It’s a wonderful tool.
Related: 5 Tips to Take Control of Your Inbox
However, we have seen people completely overtaken by inboxes containing literally thousands of emails. How do you manage the constant flow of communications? Below are a few tricks that will help you dig out from under this electronic pile:
1. Don’t treat email like instant messaging. Do you feel like one of Pavlov’s dogs checking your email each time the notification chimes or appears on your screen? If you want fewer interruptions in your workday, start with your email. Turn off both visual and audible email notifications. Instead, get in the habit of checking your email five to seven times daily. An email is not an instant message. Ask yourself, “If someone responded to me within an hour or two, would this be acceptable?” Most of us would say yes. If you need a faster answer, use text messaging or make a phone call.
2. Don’t use email when other formats are more appropriate. While a great communication tool, email is not always the best way to go. Use email to convey simple facts, ("We’ll meet at 4 p.m.") or to document information ("As discussed, we agree to the following."). Email is not appropriate for complicated communications. If your email is likely to turn into a discussion that requires the parties to go back and forth many times, a phone call or Skype will be more effective and may save you valuable time. Do not use email for interactions that involve emotions, difficult or controversial topics or where there are strained relationships between parties. Handle these face to face whenever possible or by phone when proximity makes in-person communication difficult.
3. Practice the four “Ds” of paper management. Email is an electronic form of paper and the same rules apply. When an email appears, you can:
- Do it: Act on the email immediately and then delete it.
- Delegate it: Forward the email to the appropriate person. If you feel that you will need to follow up, put the follow up on your task list rather than keeping the email in your inbox.
- Dump it: Delete emails without opening if possible. Have a high standard for keeping emails -- especially in your inbox. If it is important, but needs no action, use subdirectories to archive.
- Delay it: Avoid this whenever possible. If you cannot manage the email using one of the first three “Ds,” move the email to your task list with a follow-up date to ensure that it does not get lost.
4. Decrease the number you receive. Often the best defense is a good offense. Discourage others from sending you non-business emails. Get off distribution lists that no longer apply. Unsubscribe from communications you never read. Create a separate email address that you use when purchasing items on the internet.
5. Use filters and rules. Most email programs allow users to direct emails from specified senders or those with particular words in the subject line directly to subdirectories or the trash. Learn to use these timesaving features.
Email can be your best friend or a headache that gets bigger by the minute. These proven techniques will help you get your email under control.
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