Ah, the information age. It's a blessing and a curse. American professionals spend up to 40 percent of the workday on email management and information storage, according to one study. That leaves little time to get the rest of your work done, much less to care for yourself or your family. Fortunately, you can dramatically reduce the time you spend on email management -- without becoming less effective at work -- by following some simple rules.
Send less email. Every email you send helps fill up someone else's inbox and often lands a response email in yours. Make sure every recipient of each email you send needs to receive it. Be cautious about hitting "cc:" and "reply all." Think about whether a phone call or in-person conversation would be more effective -- often the case with a complicated issue or multi-step decision.
Batch emails. Similarly, if someone sends you three emails asking three different questions, don't respond with three individual emails. Respond to all three emails with a single email answering all the questions. Maybe you'll teach your colleague something about email management -- you'll certainly avoid getting another three emails responding to your three email replies!
Check email at designated times.My favorite email management technique is to check email at designated times each day. For instance, the beginning of the work day, noon and the end of the day. This keeps your day from being filled up with back-and-forth emails instead of sustained, productive work.
This won't work for some jobs. If your position requires you to respond immediately to customers or colleagues, you must scan email all day long. However, you can modify this email management strategy by only responding to urgent messages on an ongoing basis -- and save the rest for those two or three designated times each day.
Compose clear subject lines. The words that follow "Re" on your email should tell the recipient the email's purpose and what action you are seeking. When you respond to an email, ask yourself if re-writing the subject line would make the message clearer. If you're delivering a report or information, start the email with the word "Delivery." Begin with "Request" if you have a question or "Info" if you're merely sharing useful information.
For even better email management, specify that no reply is needed -- you can use the acronym NRN. Or, you can put the entire message in a subject line, followed by "EOM" to signify it's the end of a message. Then your correspondent doesn't even need to open the email. For instance, a subject line could read: "I agree with your conclusions in the XYZ report. EOM"
Write complete messages. Take your time composing email. Use rich text, bullet points and white space to make your email easy to read and understand. Make sure to include all the information the recipient needs in order to respond or act on your email. If you dash off a note without thinking it through, you're likely to receive a request for clarification or further detail. That loads up your inbox.
Sort email into folders.One of the most effective email management techniques is to empty your inbox every day. That prevents important messages from being pushed to the bottom of the screen, and out of your field of vision.
You could set up folders based on the project referenced, or based on the workgroup involved. The best organizational system will depend on your job and work flow. I keep folders marked "urgent," "to read" and "five minute" so that I can look in the folder depending on whether I have only five minutes to complete a task, or whether I have some leisure time to read a newsletter or article in depth. And of course, I check the "urgent" folder regularly to make sure I'm not forgetting any important deadlines.
I also keep folders for personal correspondence and volunteer work. I label each folder with the name of my child's school or the volunteer organization, and I also have a folder for receipts for online purchases and travel arrangements.