Learn How to Effectively Manage Your E-mail at Work

Posted by Kristin Arnold on June 16, 2008

The typical corporate e-mail user receives more than 30 messages a day and spends an hour or two dealing with these messages.  Learn to manage your inbox efficiently so you can realize the benefits of e-mail; it’s less formal, quicker, easier, more convenient and cost-effective that other forms of communication.

Take a lesson from these tips from my book, Email Basics: Practical Tips to Improve Team Communication:

Quit fiddling with e-mail throughout the day.  Check your e-mail regularly (e.g., first thing in the morning and right after lunch).  Do not allow e-mail to continually interrupt your day.  You don’t need to know every single time you’ve got mail, so turn off your noisy e-mail alarm.  It drives your office mates crazy!

Before you open all your messages, check your e-mail subject lines while in your inbox/browser.  Delete the junk mail.  It’s the equivalent of standing by the trash can as you go through your “snail mail.”

Handle e-mails only once.  Discipline yourself to DRAFS as many messages as you can:


DELETE:  Delete spam, unwanted messages and incoming “free offers.”  Nothing is free.  E-mail is a great way for companies to collect information and leave “cookies” (little pieces of software) on your computer.

Delete those messages you won’t read or don’t have time to read.

If you don’t want to receive jokes, chain letters or other types of “junk” e-mail, politely tell your teammates to delete your name off their distribution lists.

Create a “rule” or “filter” that will automatically delete unwanted e-mail from your inbox.

REPLY:  Reply within your agreed-upon times, even if a brief acknowledgement is all you can manage.  Ignoring or postponing a response to a teammate’s message is downright rude.  When you know your teammates are expecting a reply but you need more time, send a short “what’s happening” message to let others know when you will get back to them.

You are not expected to reply to an FYI or copy to/cc message.

Use threads (a string of responses to a single mesage) by setting up the reply function.  You can set up your system to include the sender’s message at the beginning or at the end of your reply — usually a matter of preference.  Don’t forget to edit excess forwarding information that doesn’t relate to the content of the message.

Don’t reply to a point in a prior e-mail message without quoting or paraphrasing what you’re responding to and who said it.  When replying to just one point of a long e-mail, clip and past the pertinent paragraph only.  A > inserted before text means “you wrote.”  Try using a different color and size font so that your answers stand out from the original message.  (Let others know, e.g., “See my response in blue.”)

You can use the “reply all” feature to “brainstorm” a topic, allowing everyone on the team to participate.

Beware of Reply All.  Do all of the people from the incoming to: and cc: lines need to know?

Unless the matter is really urgent, don’t try to reply to every message as soon as it comes in.  Generally speaking, people who respond to every message within five or 10 minutes are paying more attention to their e-mail than their jobs.

When e-mail has been lobbed back and forth (like a tennis ball) for more than three volleys, it’s time to pick up the phone, or go face to face (F2F).

ACT:  Take immediate action on items that will take less than two minutes, or if you have time, deal with them on the spot.

Group all messages that will take longer than two minutes into an “action folder.”  Clean out your action folder when you have time to deal with them appropriately (usually once per day).

Flag your e-mail messages for follow-up actions.

Stop procrastinating.  Just take action.

FORWARD:  Forward misdirected e-mails to the correct address.  Don’t even forward spam or chain letter e-mails.  Not only are chain letters against the law, it’s tacky.

When forwarding messages, put your comments at the top of the message.

E-mail gives us an illusion of privacy, but your e-mail could be forwarded to ANYONE.  Do not forward your fellow teammates’ mail without permission (or tacit understanding), especially if it may embarrass them.  It is all too easy to forward a personal letter to the entire team, division or company.

When forwarding e-mail, set your e-mail client character width to 70 characters.  This keeps your text from getting pushed off the screen with older software that does not have a “word wrap” feature.

More than three forwards, and you’re out!

SAVE:  Develop an orderly filing system for those e-mail messages you wish to save.  Create file folders to save your messages.  Create sub folders for each process, project or program your team works on.  When saving your messages, rename with with a descriptive title under a specific subject folder so you can find them later.

Only save messages you think you will need to retrieve at a later date.  After all, how many paper files have you ever gone back to?

Create a shared drive or website to post and save team information.

Keep messages remaining in your electronic mailbox to a minimum.

If you don’t know what to do with it, or don’t have time to deal with it, save it to a “temp” folder.

Clean out that “temp” folder once a week.

Question:  Do you follow these e-mail rules or do you have others of your own?

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