Tips for handling your e-mail efficiently and keeping caught up with it.
Five ways to master your email inbox and manage your technology
Most people probably have a love/hate relationship with email as they grapple daily with their inbox. And it’s got worse over time.
Most of us are managing multiple inboxes across multiple platforms and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better or easier to manage. Many professionals have declared email bankruptcy (where they delete every single email from their inbox with the hopes that if the contents were truly critical, the sender will reach out to them or call as a followup).
Most of us rely on email for crucial business communications and email bankruptcy is not a legitimate option, so let’s look at five ways to master the inbox:
1. Create folders. Some of the newer Web-based email clients do not have folders (such as Gmail), but they do have “tags” (words you can use to associate multiple messages to). Either way, creating tags or folders are crucial to getting organized.
My general strategy is to create a folder for every client or project. On top of that, I create folders for each member of our team at Twist Image (in case it’s a conversation related to an individual instead of a specific project).
I also have folders for HR, business development, interesting news items that may wind up becoming content fodder for my newspaper columns, blog post or an idea for a book.
I also track trends using my inbox. If something interesting happens with Facebook, I email the link to myself and file it under Facebook in my trends folder. Using sub-folders is another way to keep your email organized.
2. Create rules. I set up a lot of email alerts from places such as Google Alerts or when somebody new is following me on Twitter or requesting to connect on Facebook or LinkedIn.
With a couple of simple clicks on the “rules” button, you can have email sent from a specific email address or emails that have a similar piece of content in the body of the message to redirect automatically to a pre-defined folder. This avoids inbox clutter and clog-ups. This tactic works great if you subscribe to many e-newsletters as well.
3. Get it done. In 2001, David Allen wrote the groundbreaking business book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. One piece of insight this book produced is: If you can get it done in 60 seconds or less, do it right away. Emails that don’t require more than a few sentences to respond to should get done as soon as possible and then filed or deleted.
Some emails can be dealt with between meetings, but I will set aside one hour every day to respond to emails that require more writing/ thinking.
Lastly, I don’t beat myself up if every email doesn’t get responded to on the same day that it was received, but I always respond.
4. Create a hierarchy of response. During the day, clients or potential new business gets responded to first, then staff, then requests for media or writing and then family and friends (unless it’s an obvious emergency).
It doesn’t matter if that rule gets broken from time to time, but it’s the spirit of: clients first, team second and everything else after that, which allows me to look at my inbox with a different perspective.
Create a hierarchy of who gets responded to and in what order.
5. Tell people – in your emails – how to work better with you. Most people have no idea how to use email. They respond to everyone on an email with a bunch of people who were only cc’d and they’ll do things such as send back an email that says, “OK,” as if that adds any value to the chain of communication.
You can set ground rules by putting some insights into your signature file. Things like, “please only respond back to me, the other people who are listed on this email are just there to be kept in the loop,” or, “There’s no need to respond, I just wanted to keep you in the loop.”
A little clarity on how you like to interact via email will help keep your inbox clutter down and will also teach people new ways they can use their email with more efficacy.
Most people are in email hell. It’s on their smartphones and it’s on their screens for most of their waking moments.
Some may see this as an indictment on our society’s inability to find a peaceful balance in our workcentric lives.
Ultimately, the only way to really survive your inbox is to make a personal promise that you are going to better manage your technology, instead of letting your technology manage you.
Mitch Joel is president of Twist Image and the author of the bestselling business book, Six Pixels of Separation.
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