Top Tips for Taming Email

As a coach it seems that increasingly I am working with people who are fighting a malignant force in their place of work. You may well recognise it. It’s…email.

Yes, email. It’s a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it can be dealt with at your convenience, it gives you time to prepare what you want to say in the right way, you can use it to send attachments, to say the same thing to lots of people at the same time, and it gives you an audit trail of the conversations you’ve had. But on the other hand… there’s just too many of them!

So if you feel your email is starting to control you, rather than the other way round, here are the best 5 tips I have found for how to tame the beast:

  • 1. Turn off the message alert function. It constantly interrupts you and distracts you away from completing something else. If you don’t know a message has arrived, you won’t feel drawn to check what it says.
  • 2. Only check your email three times a day. Yes, really. Morning, lunch time, mid-afternoon, for example. After all, if you were out in meetings all day you wouldn’t be replying within milliseconds, so what’s the difference? Set an automated response if you wish, telling people when they can expect to hear back from you. It gives you focused time dealing with your emails, so you work more efficiently at clearing them.
  • 3. Keep your Inbox clear by having well organised folders. Three particularly useful folders are: ‘Admin and How To’ (for information you may want again – make sure emails in here have helpful titles like ‘How to raise a Helpdesk problem’); ‘Stuff to Read’ (for all those circulars you get – bet you wind up deleting most of them unread, but at least they’re out of your Inbox); [ACTION REQUIRED] – to keep live issues on your radar but out of your Inbox. Use CAPITALS for this one and put [square brackets] round the title as this sends the folder to the top of the list. That way it’s in your face the whole time. Your [ACTION REQUIRED] folder is the one you should aim to empty every day.
  • 4. Take action on every email as soon as you read it. The rule is: READ-ACT-NEXT. There is absolutely no advantage to you in reading an email and deciding to deal with it later. Most are quick responses – do it and they are done. If the email requires more consideration, pop it into [ACTION REQUIRED] and you won’t forget about it.
  • 5. Manage email chains by keeping only the latest message. Older versions of the same thing can really clutter up your folders unnecessarily.

Go on, give them a try, and let me know how you get on.

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