How often are you in email overload? Do you control it, or does it control you? Is it a stress or a benefit; adjunct or curse? Does it dictate your life?
Coping – Controlling the Email Monster (Audio)
How many unopened emails does your business email in-box contain right now? Do you know what’s in those emails that could “bite you”? How much are you in control of email? Or does it have control of you? Is it a work aide or has it become a “monster”? How can you get back on top of it? Would that be worthwhile pursuing if you could?
One of the greatest communication and productivity tools in the online world today is still email. It is everywhere. You can’t do business without it. There is hardly a household in Australia without it. Through web-mail, you can stay in touch anytime, anywhere, anyhow. And today most new mobile phone plans come standard with an email access. You certainly can’t miss it in airports or hotels today either, can you? It really emphasizes the “always on” situation.
But there is a downside. There is a risk we become enslaved to it and that it can actually interfere with our productivity. Many find it extremely stressful to try and “stay on top of” it. We are bombarded with hundreds of emails daily, particularly if our work exposes us to different time zones. It has become a monster for many that are increasingly unable to cope with it.
My focus today is on some simple tips and traps that will ensure that email is as productive as ever, but not as invasive. All it will take is some discipline and adherence to a few techniques.
Email is a tool
Firstly, refrain from looking at your email every time it goes “ding”. Email is not your job. It is a tool that you use in your job, alongside many other things. I have set my phone email to “pull” so that it doesn’t go “ding” any more. I control when I choose to make time to look at email – when it suits me.
Set Time for Email
Why not assign specific times during the day for when you deal with email, the same as you do for other things you do at work – perhaps 3 – 4 times a day, depending on your role and the volume of “real” email?
When doing email, try to limit the time you allocate to about half an hour each time, and try not to be interrupted so you can get a lot done in that period.
Open only what you’ll deal with now
Do not open an email if you are not going to deal with it now. How do you know?
See first 3 lines
Set your email system up, so it shows the first 3 lines of any unread email. Use those first 3 lines in conjunction with the subject (and sometimes who it is from) to decide whether to open it or not.
Do it now
If you open an email, deal with it completely now.
If it is something that will take time, estimate the effort and duration as we discussed in Coping: Staying on Top and create a task or diarise a time to deal with it and then forget about it. Move to the next one.
Create a “CC Folder”
Create a “CC” folder and set up a rule in your email system to forward all emails addressed to you as “CC” into that folder. Only look at emails in that folder twice a week when you have nothing better to do. They are unimportant.
Educate those around you
Teach those around you that if they expect you to do something from an email, that they should address the email “TO” you and that addressing it “CC” means you don’t have to do anything. CC means “courtesy copy” and serves only to “inform you”.
Start with those you can influence directly, eg your subordinates or team members. It may take a while, and you may have a few “run-ins” but it’s worth sticking to. It can more than halve your email traffic.
Remember to stick to that rule yourself.
I would like to caution you on the use of BCC (Blind Courtesy Copy) in that it can backfire on you with very adverse affects. If you BCC someone it’s almost like “they are given to know something they shouldn’t know”. It puts a lot of pressure on them (and you) to maintain that “secrecy”. If you think they ought to know, CC them. I’ve experienced a BCC doing a “reply all” and putting the sender of the BCC in a very difficult situation. Don’t do it, is my suggestion.
I use BCC only when I want to “broadcast” something to a list of people and don’t want each to know who all the others are that I sent it to. That way it comes up as “undisclosed recipients” and everyone knows that’s what it is.
Most companies and now even home PC’s use a “spam filter”, which helps reduce unnecessary and unsolicited email volume somewhat. However, this is sometimes set too tightly and it is worth looking into the spam filter from time to time before you hit “delete all” to be sure important mails haven’t “slipped through” to be discarded unread.
Structure your email into folders so you can more easily find mails when you need to. It becomes a great knowledge base. You can also do that in your email archives if you have a mailbox limit. Otherwise it can be just as easily setup for mail and attachments in your hard drive or server drive.
Subject headings & purpose
Get into the habit of choosing really sharp email subject headings and outlining the purpose of each email in the first 3 lines, thereby according others the same courtesy you expect from them, so they can also assess whether to open and deal with that email right away or later.
One topic per email
Try to restrict one mail to one topic.
If you can’t, number each item. I like to outline in the 1st 3 lines that the email has eg 4 points, 2 of which require a decision. (Doesn’t it bug you that people only answer the first or last of multiple items in an email and ignore the rest?)
The right time to hit “Send”
We all know not to hit the “send button” when we have responded to or written an email “in anger”, right? I’m going to take that one step further, particularly for those of us that can be quite “forthright” in our communications.
Let’s say you choose to do email at 7h00, 11h00, 14h00 and 17h00. I would like to suggest that you only “send” any emails created or responded to during the 7h00 session in the 11h00 session and so on. Why not “park” those emails in “drafts” and revisit them to send at the start of the next “email session”. Once you have re-read them an hour or so later, you will often “tone them down” or smooth out anything inappropriate. I know you will be able to better reflect on the diplomacy and the tone when you do that.
When at home rule
Remember the “when @ home, be @ home” rule? Try to avoid web-mail or email on your phone at home. If you can’t, remember the “30 minute rule” and stick to 30 minutes. The rest is for tomorrow.
However, as a successful professional it will always be required from time to time that you need to be working at home to meet a deadline or prepare something extra or special for a client etc. I understand that that’s the name of the game today. We also tend and need to spend a fair bit of time on research and keeping up with what’s happening in our game. The key here is balance and there is a risk of disrupting important relationships at home if you aren’t in balance. Let those around you know you need to work tonight or this week or this month, but don’t let it become the norm or “an escape”.
Email on your phone? Like a TV, it has an “off” switch, if you aren’t switched to “pull”. The same rules apply as for web-mail.
So there they are. A bunch of simple, but very effective tips and techniques for your:
- and email management
that you can get into the habit of making your own.
I know that almost every client I have coached, mentored or groomed agree that these techniques have helped them gain significantly better control of their time, and helped to reduce their stress.
I once learned: “To know and not to do, is not to know” and have found that to be true.
Champions have a goal or goals, and commit to doing whatever it takes to meet or exceed those goals. There’s no point in having a plan, if you don’t work the plan. Provided you have seen the value in it, there’s no point in being made aware of or learning a new skill unless you intend to apply it.
What if you had a go and they added some extra quality time to each of your days? What if they helped make the difference for you between this and last year’s performance review? What if you felt more in control? What if they helped get and keep you on top of your game, and ahead of the rest?
What if you could?
Click here for the other blogs of this trilogy:
- Coping: Getting on Top of Meetings
- Coping: Staying on Top
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