14 Ways To Control E-Mail and Increase Productivity

14 Ways to Control E-Mail and Increase Productivity

“Did you get my email?” This was the question Rachelle often heard from her co-workers, as she scanned the 4,298 emails in her inbox. She was missing deadlines and stressed at the thought of looking at her inbox.

After spending a few minutes with Rachelle, we noticed how she processed email.  Each time she received an email notification, she would instantly stop what she was doing and open the email. If the email involved a quick action, she would immediately reply back. If the email required a longer response, she would leave the email in the inbox and come back to it later.

Rachelle would scan her recent emails about five times every day and felt bombarded with the constant e-mail traffic. She relied upon her email account’s search feature to find the items that needed action. While doing this, Rachelle often skimmed messages and missed important deadlines.

After some minor changes to her email practices, Rachelle was able to reduce her inbox and stress levels to zero and she become more productive. Here are some strategies that helped Rachelle:

1.  Come in early and send out your emails without first checking the inbox. Get your priorities completed and then focus on responding to others. This is your time and you need to make the best use of it.

2.  Turn off the e-mail notification system. That’s right, turn it off and keep it off.

3.  Set up rules for certain senders (such as your boss) or projects to notify you when their emails come your way. That way, you don't miss anything that is time sensitive.

4.  Check emails only four or five times a day. Research has shown that constantly switching from one task to another wastes time and we lose our focus.

5.  Use the two-minute rule. If the action or response will take 2 minutes or less, reply back. If a longer response is required, reply when you have a sufficient amount of time, perhaps setting a limit in the range of five to ten minutes. The idea is to be quick and efficient and to move the email out of your inbox.

6.  Set up three special email boxes and put them at the top of the navigation bar.  Label the inboxes as @Action @Pending and @To Read. You can personalize the @symbols. For example, David Allen of Getting Things Done uses @Action and @Waiting For. Classify each new e-mail as follows:

  • @Action – Some type of action or task to be done.
  • @Pending – More information is needed or you need to do some type of checking before you can action it.
  • @Read – Set it aside and when you have some extra time, read the message in detail.

This system will reduce stress and the burden of a full inbox as the list of   items to be reviewed is decreased.

7.  Periodically review each file and action according to your time.

8.  Set up folders for specific senders, projects, topics, and initiatives. This will organize your messages and reduce your reliance on the search feature.

9.  Use the subject line wisely and if the topic changes, change the subject line to reflect the new shift in direction. 

10.  Give the reader important information when they are scanning their emails such as:

  •  Topic – Time Sensitive
  •  Topic - Response Required by
  •  Topic  – For Your Information Only

By indicating the action or non-action required, this will get the attention of the reader and they can prioritize the email immediately.

11.  Clarify standards of service for internal and external client responses. The rule of thumb is usually within 24 hours for external clients and 48 hours for internal clients. The response time may cause some good internal discussions and after agreement, will reduce frequent follow up on messages.

12.  Minimize the use of the CC feature and think twice before each person is added. Consider the value of adding their name to the list. Do they need to action anything? Is this a good use of their time?

13.  Some people like to get a one or two word response such as “Thanks” or “Got It” to acknowledge a receipt. Although others may think that this is a waste of time, consider the value in responding to this type of email. Is this a good use of everyone’s time? If this helps build relationships, go for it.

14.  Reduce the number of emails in your inbox to zero by the end of the day. Make this a daily goal.

By adjusting your email habits, this will reduce the number of messages in your inbox. By applying these ideas, you will be more organized, have a reduction in stress, and your productivity will increase.

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