Sunday, July 23, 2006

Are You in Email Hell?

I have been asked about email management so many times I thought it should rate a blog. I get about 300 to 350 email messages on average each day, including personal email. At the end of the day, there are no unread, ‘unresponded to’ emails left in my inbox. I often hear “How do you stay on top of your emails?” or “The one thing I can’t seem to get a handle on, is keeping up with my emails!”

Even though it’s a peripheral part of the work I do with my clients, I thought I’d let you in on some tips to get out of email hell.

Your inbox should be a ‘No Parking Zone’.

  1. Set up filters or rules wherever you can. I have a ‘rule’ for newsletters, another for the School, one for my blog, Information Requests through my website and well, you get the idea. This way they’re automatically filed and you can get to them when you want/need to. I don’t have to wade through all 300 or so to figure out which are urgent and which I can read whenever.
  2. I configure my Outlook to have a preview so I can see the gist of my email before opening it. That way I can pretty much determine whether or not it’s urgent.
  3. I read each email once when at all possible (and it’s almost ALWAYS possible). If I read each one twice, then I’d have 600 emails a day and that is just ridiculous. Why do twice the work? If I open it, I do something with it. With the preview set up, it’s easier to figure out what has to be opened first. I apply the Touch Paper Once Rule to emails as well. Trash File Delegate or Act. I cannot tell you how many clients look at the same email 3 or 4 times. It boggles the mind. At that rate, they will never be on top of their correspondence!
  4. Anything that requires a long response goes into a special folder with a flag and completion date so I’m reminded to get to it.
  5. I schedule in time through the day to process my emails….and I stick to that scheduling commitment.
  6. I tell friends, family and colleagues to please (very politely so as not to insult) cease and desist with jokes, petitions, news clipping etc. For those people in your life who you KNOW will be insulted if you ask this of them, set up a rule where they go into a file or bin and you can either glance through them when you feel like it or, if you know you’re not ever going to read them let the rule guide them gently to the trash bin. Remember…it’s not the person you’re rejecting. It’s the email overload that’s keeping you so busy you don’t have time to meet them or call them to catch up. Now which would you rather do?
  7. If you’re way behind and have hundreds in your inbox, you’re likely to procrastinate thinking you have to tackle it all in one fell swoop. If that’s you, then what I suggest is that you start doing this right now with today’s emails. Once you’re applying these tips, process the 10 most recent ones that have been parked. If you do that each time you tackle your current email, you’ll have eliminated all the old ones in your inbox in record time and will be able to stay current.

    I do have a BlackBerry so I can process emails at short breaks through the day. This also keeps me on top of any scheduling changes. Nothing like showing up to a meeting that’s been cancelled or relocated. Is technology working for you or is it a make work project? Remember, technology is just a tool. How you use it is up to you.
  8. If your email is anything like mine, when I get back from a trip or vacation, I have an overflowing inbox that is about to explode (figure out a week or two times about 300 emails a day. It’s too daunting to verbalize) I take one day off before heading back to work to read, scan, process and answer my emails so when I’m back, I’m back, and can hit the floor running from square one. It’s automatically factored into my time off.
  9. And last but not least, when responding? Make sure you’re clear, definitive and give enough information back because otherwise you’ve just generated 2 or 3 more guaranteed responses in your inbox if you don’t.

    Effectively yours : )
    Donna Karlin

*Note: Welcome new subscribers (88 and 89) from Puerto Rico and Sri Lanka. I hope you stay awhile, and share your thoughts and insights with us for a long time to come!

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