You’ve probably heard the term email bankruptcy, or can at least infer what I’m talking about here if you’re opening up Outlook and greeted by a glaring “Inbox (24,576)”. If you’re feeling consumed by email, bankruptcy counseling is in session. Hopefully this post is a no-nonsense quick and dirty guide to managing the unmanageable at work. These are strategies I’m starting to adopt to keep the inbox svelte and keep myself productive at work, and as such the following tips are mostly work email related. You’ll note the focus on prevention, since the old “an ounce of prevention” is horribly cliche, but still pretty dead on.
– Cut the acknowledgements. Alot of occupational spam involves replies people send to be polite or acknowledge messages. If you’re getting replies with “Great!” or “Received your email, thanks!”, cut that off at the source. Simply drop in a little footer in your emails stating “No need to respond unless there’s an issue with this. Extend the same courtesy to your busy colleagues.
– Don’t dump email@example.com into your inbox. Spammers usually mine domains and blast out emails to the “info@” address. If you must monitor a general inbox, use something less common like firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Don’t use email! Use Wikis. At Socialtext, our email traffic blasted out to groups is light mostly because most of the conversations are on our wiki. If you’re looking to roll one out in your business and want to get informed on the how-tos, email me (oh the irony!). (Update: another dopey cliche: a picture is worth 1,000. Here’s a visual from the wikinomics blog:)
– Read up on “Inbox Zero“. The basic idea here is that each email you receive should trigger an immediate action – either you respond to it, you act on it, you delete it and forget it, or you forward it to the appropriate person. There’s no reason to leave things lingering around. The emphasis here is on dealing with an email immediately once you take the time to read it, rather than flagging it for follow up later and allowing the emails to stack up.
– Read email only twice a day – Tim Ferris suggests communicating expectations that emails will be read and responded to twice a day, and answered immediately once you do sit down to read them. He also suggests setting an auto-responder to set expections, and provides the following sample message:
Thank you for your email! Due to my current workload I am only checking email at 11am and 4pm. If you need anything immediately please call me on my cell so that I can address this important matter with you. Thank you and have a great day!
I’m with Tim on this for the most part, although I think a footer on your emails stating the above is preferable to auto email-bombing your unsuspecting colleagues.
This is just a sampling of solutions to leveraging your time more effectively. If you have other email hacks you’d like to share, please share ’em below!