Ask any working person with an email account and they will most likely tell you they have to process tons of emails on a daily basis, not mentioning sometimes doing it over weekends as well.
I remember a time when I got back home after a tiring day in the office and my wife commented, "Gee you look tired...must have worked really hard at work?" I replied, "Yeah, I sent out almost 100 emails today! I really worked hard!"
It was then that I realised that whilst we may be sending out and responding to tons of emails, we may not actually be doing anything effective!
Here are some tips I've started observing myself over the years working on emails.
Sort the "Date Received" and read from the most current. I know this sounds simple yet I know of people who actually do the reverse; they read from where they last read on the previous day and read it backwards till the most current email. But what happens is that most issues pin the emails (especially those that involves a number of other stakeholders) usually get resolved by themselves as you're away from your desk. By starting with the "end" in mind, sometimes, you realise that you save precious time reading the actions of others when what might be needed is only for you to know the outcomes of those actions.
Don't respond too promptly. Okay, admittedly, this is bad practice. But what happens is that as you respond quickly at the very moment you receive the email, you sometimes feed the momentum at the other end and before long, the to'ing and fro'ing escalates into an avalanche of emails that finally buries you.
Pick up the phone and just talk! I find this very helpful especially when observing the "Don't respond too promptly" tip. Instead of holding a conversation over email, why not do it over the phone? I am amazed how sometimes a quick 3 minute conversation can be prolonged into a 3-day "email conversation" that not only slows things down but introduces misunderstanding.
Don't read your email first thing when you hit the office. I confess, I'm still struggling with this. In fact, the moment your eyes are opened, on your bed, you're tempted to reach out to your smart phone and start checking your emails. What happens when we do that is we often get sucked into the demands of the day even before we can nourish ourselves with a good breakfast or some quiet time spent on planning for the day. I strong suggest you keep a notepad (or a to-do list) to write down what you intend to accomplish for the day before launching into your emails.
Schedule 4 time-slots to read your email in a day. More and more of my friends and associates are doing this. We no longer want to have emails "pushed" to us but we only "pull" when we want to read them. And more importantly, pull only at specific times of the day! What has worked for most people are 9.30am (or about the time you're done with the planning for the day), then just before lunch at about 11.30am. One more time around 3pm and the last slot at about 5pm or so before you head out of the office.
What happens here is that after about 20 minutes or so working on the emails in each time slot you turn off the emails and focus your energy and time on your other important to-do items. In this 20-minute slot, all you're doing is:-
- Acting immediately to requests that takes no more than 2 minutes to respond and scheduling a time to act on requests that takes more than 2minutes of your time
- Deleting the emails that requires no action on your part or filing them away
- Delegating the email to someone else who is more appropriate to act on it
What other tips have you used that are helpful in making your day more productive? I would love to hear from you. Just drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be happy to consolidate and share.