Emails have changed the way that we communicate over the past 50 years. Most managers will say they get too many emails and have difficulty managing them.
Managing the Content of Emails
This story is Part 1 of a two part “How to” guide on managing your emails. The first part will focus on managing the process of sending and receiving emails whilst the second part will cover content management and what should and should not be included within an email to ensure they have impact and are effective. The second part of this story will be available in October.
1. Decide on the best time of day to deal with emails and stick to it
Throughout the day you will have periods where you are most creative and brightest at work. This may vary depending on the individual but for two-thirds of people the morning is when we are at our best. This time should NOT be used for emails. The least productive part of the day is usually just after lunch and this is where you can make time for dealing with emails as, for the most part, emails do not require a great deal of creativity nor intuitive thought so therefore this will leave your mornings free for the creative and challenging managerial work that you need to do.
If you use Outlook (or similar) turn off the pop-up and reminder sound for advising when an email comes in as this can be an easy distraction
At first, the suggestion that emails should only be dealt with once a day may be an alarming one but if you keep in mind that paper mail only arrives once a day, why not make emails similar? The key to this is avoiding the temptation to respond to each email as it comes in.
2. Take action on each email rather than scanning your entire inbox
Some of the popular email systems enable you to preview the subject lines in your inbox. You should utilise this functionality and use it to scan through your inbox to identify related emails to take action on first.
If you have your inbox organised with most recent at the top – start at the bottom of your new messages and work up.
By starting at the bottom and working upwards you will ensure you have the complete picture if someone has sent you a string of relevant emails. It is important to avoid reading your entire inbox in detail before going back to reply to them as this is a very inefficient use of your time as you will only read them again when you come to take action.
Take emails one by one, taking any necessary action straightaway
If your response only requires a small amount of work, do it straightaway
If your email requires you to undertake a considerable amount of work, respond immediately advising when you will get back to the sender
In popular email systems, such as Outlook, it is important to utilise the “Red Flag” system or “To Do” functionality
3. Keep your inbox clear
If you handle each email in turn taking action as you go along you will ensure your inbox stays clear. The 4 Ds is a quick and easy way of handling each email in turn:
Do: Take Action Immediately
Delegate: Send the email to one of your staff to action
Diary: Respond and diarise to follow up later
Delete: To ensure your inbox stays clear
Every time you open your inbox try applying the ‘4 Ds’ approach to each email.
At the end of each day, make sure your inbox is as clear as possible and you are organised and ready for the next day. By taking action on emails daily, you will not only become more efficient but you will start to feel good about the way you are managing your emails at the end of each day.
4. Respond to some emails by phone instead of email if possible
If an email query can be discussed in more detail over the phone then action the email over the phone rather than sending an email. In some situations you can achieve a lot more through actually talking to someone saving you a whole string of emails over the coming days. Not only this, but it also helps build relationships with people i.e. peers, colleagues and customers which always has a positive impact.
It is a good idea to phone someone if they are:
In the same building as you
Someone you have not spoken with in a while
A person who usually takes a considerable time to respond to emails
By using the phone to call people occasionally, they are more likely to phone you when they have something to discuss. This in effect will reduce the number of emails you have to manage on a daily basis.
5. Have an email-free day
Many people find it difficult to remember the time before emails, despite it not being that long ago. When emails were first introduced some people only dealt with them once a week but as we all know it would be very difficult to achieve this in today’s society. However, the key to success is in training people (i.e. colleagues, customers and others) to really think about why they want to contact you as well as what the message will entail.
In recent times there have been a growing number of organisations around the world who have identified the impact of a loss of productivity caused by employees not managing their emails effectively. These organisations have implemented an email-free day policy. Not only does this actively reduce the reliance on emails it also improves the interpersonal communication across the rest of the working week resulting in quicker problem solving, better working relationships, improved team working and happier customers.
So why not introduce an email-free day into your working week?
6. Communicate your email management plans
As discussed in the previous point, you need to involve other people in your email management plans. This includes your manager, team, peers and key customers/ suppliers so that they can begin to understand the most effective way of communicating with you.
Organise a team meeting to discuss how your entire team could improve their email management
Develop and agree an email management plan with your team
The use of emails can quickly and easily become the majority of your daily workload. Keep in mind that you are in the business of your business and not the business of emails. Effective email management is essential in understanding that emails are just a tool to help you achieve better results.
It may not be appropriate to follow this guide to the letter as depending on your organisation and role some of the above suggestions may not be realistic or achievable. This guide to managing your email is designed to make you reflect on how you use emails and to give you ideas on ways to improve your email management, thus increasing your productivity and efficiency.