7 Ways to Reach Email Heaven
7 Ways to Reach Email Heaven
Written by Professional Academy Management & Leadership Tutor, Kathryn Knights
Are you in control of your email or is it in control of you? Email is a tool to communicate with other people – and it’s not a very good one. However, it’s one of the most popular tools in the working world and shows no signs of going away. Knowing how to use it properly will help you be more productive, reduce your stress levels and free up time to spend time on your important tasks.
The truth is, unless you work in customer service, email is not your job. However, it is your responsibility to learn how to effectively handle email so it doesn’t get in the way of your work. This goes further than knowing how to send / receive emails and attaching documents. You need a system.
Having a system in place lets you read and react appropriately to all of your incoming email. This will reduce your feelings of stress and anxiety that often come with the responsibility of managing an inbox.
The problem: reactivity
This is a biggie. Constantly monitoring and reacting to emails will hinder your ability to focus on important tasks. If you feel stressed, frazzled and with an underlying feeling of someone always wanting you then that’s probably because you’re working in ‘reactive mode’.
Other common problems:
- Using email as a to-do list
- Answering every email
- Missing important information
- Stalling on replies
- Inbox ownership – are you managing an inbox that isn’t your responsibility? In small businesses you often find the owner managing a customer service inbox as well as their own inbox. In these instances it’s time to delegate responsibility to another team member or virtual assistant to relieve you getting involved in tasks that do not play to your strengths.
- Batching – scheduling in time to be in email mode is vitally important to increasing your productivity. You might think you are being a great multi-tasker by switching between emails and deep-thought work but people can't actually do more than one task at a time. Instead we switch tasks. It takes more time to get tasks completed if you switch between them than if you do them one at a time. You also make more errors when you switch than if you do one task at a time. Use the Pomodoro Technique to structure your email sessions i.e. spend 25 minutes on emails then shut down your email client and move onto your other important tasks. Leaving your inbox open will lead you back down the reactivity path. Switch off notifications on your phone too.
- Actions – have an action for every email. The reply options below are a key concept in David Allen’s methodology, Getting Things Done. Here are your choices:
- Archive – put in a folder
- Reference – pull out the reference information e.g. an attachment and save it elsewhere (then archive or delete)
- Reply (option 1) – if you can reply in under two minutes, do so (then archive or delete)
- Reply (option 2) – if you cannot reply in under two minutes put it on your to-do list (see point 4 below) and email the sender to tell them the action you have taken (then archive or delete)
- Task managers – never use your email inbox as a to-do list. Firstly you’ll find the tasks hard to manage as they will get lost amongst the other emails you receive. Secondly, you need to get into the habit of closing down your email client when you are not answering emails (see point 2 above) so keeping your to-do list elsewhere is a must. This can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or you could look at using a software tool like OmniFocus or todoist.
- Replies – keep email replies to five lines or five sentences in length. If the email you have received requires a longer response then you should assign it to your to-do list to complete at a later date (see point 4 above) or if it’s a complex issue set up a phone call. This avoids email ping-pong.
- Rules – create rules for emails wherever possible. For example, if you receive automated emails that are purely for an audit trail make sure they go straight into your archive rather than into your inbox.
- Delete – you don’t need to reply to every email. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that will happen if I delete this?” If the answer isn’t too bad, delete it and move on. You can’t reply to everything. Choose the most important ones, and reply to them.
Even if you commit to just one of the solutions above you’ll slash your time spent on email. Remember: email + great systems = email heaven.
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