How many hours do we spend every day to handle emails ? 1 hour, 2 hours, 3 hours maybe. We all know that we spend too much time managing this mailbox that becomes more and more intrusive to the point of making us dependent or even prisoner of it. But time of rebellion has come ! Let us regain control over our time and apply some best practices to keep (as far as possible) only the very best of this great communication tool that is electronic messaging !
Here are 5 simple ways to help you better manage your emails :
1- Keep control of your mailbox
The 1st rule to adopt, and certainly the most important, is to keep control of your mailbox instead of becoming a slave of it. Nothing is more time consuming and counterproductive than checking your mail at the slightest notification, than answering immediately each incoming mail. Not only these practices subtract a precious time from the achievement of your important tasks, but also those inconvenient interruptions prevent you from staying focused on your priority work. According to several studies, it takes an average of 20 minutes to recover one’s concentration after an interruption. Guess what would happen if you get disturbed every 5 or 10 minutes !
To avoid such a situation, 2 key rules must be respected :
- disable ALL visual and sound alerts not to be tempted
- manage your box only at FIXED HOURS, at the end of the morning and late in the afternoon for example
A last option, even more radical, would be to keep your messaging closed outside of the ranges planned for its processing. Try this !
2- Quickly sort your emails
At the scheduled time, quickly review all the messages you have received and decide for each of them the most appropriate processing. You can choose between :
1- classify it : when an email does not require any action from you, typically emails sent “for your information”, it may be better to store it directly into a folder that remains available if needed
2- delete it : depending on the subject or the sender, it might be better to simply “trash” the email. Do not hesitate to do this since it remains the fastest way to treat your emails 😉
3- delegate it : another effective method (when used wisely of course) is to delegate the processing of the email to the most appropriate person
4- act : if none of the first 3 options are suitable, you will have to treat the email according to 2 scenarios :
– Either treat it immediately if it is urgent and important, or if its processing takes less than 2 minutes (under the famous rules of GTD, “Getting Things Done”, by David Allen)
– Or plan its processing depending on the deadline and importance of the matter
To remember all your options easily, you can keep in mind the ‘4 Ds’ of time management that mean “Drop, Delay, Delegate & Do”.
3- Automate everything possible
Although digital is so intrusive in our lives, it also has its own advantages, in particular that of simplifying our lives through automation. Thus take advantage of the numerous features offered by your messaging tool to save precious time in treating your emails.
First of all, to easily sort your emails, use automatic rules for classification. For example, create various directories dedicated to emails that are directly sent to you, copied, sent by your manager, by your assistant, by your team… Create also specific directories for non-priority emails such as newsletters, personal messages, and so on.
Next, filter your emails to automatically extract the most unwanted from it such as ads, spam and other inconvenient alerts like the ones social networks are so used to send…
Finally, accelerate your writing of emails by setting in advance your “signature” that you will automatically edit on every new mail. Make the most of this feature by including a maximum of elements such as text, images, your electronic business card, a logo, or even an image of your handwritten signature.
4- Send less to receive less
Beyond organizational methods listed above, there is another powerful way to concretely simplify the management of your emails : by receiving fewer emails of course ! And to receive less, you have to send less. Indeed, you have a part of responsibility in the mail you receive. So instead of applying the law of retaliation by bombing your penpals, set an example :
- do not send a copy of your mails to everybody
- do not always “reply all”
- do not mistake email for chat
- after 3 mails exchanged on a subject, opt for a verbal contact with your interlocutor
- avoid writing a novel 😉
If everyone respects those good practices – starting with yourself – at least half the battle is done !
5- Militate in favor of a corporate project
As dealing with emails is mostly a collective issue, it should be effective to tackle it at a company level. This way is probably the hardest one but it can produce extraordinary results once investigated. That is the ambitious choice made by several large companies such as Atos, Intel and Deloitte.
Since 2011, Atos has launched a large project to become progressively a “Zero email” company. The aim is both to increase employee productivity by freeing time usually spent managing emails and to work more collaboratively by breaking down information silos and enhancing synergies. To reach this goal, Atos has implemented social and collaborative solutions such as blogs, wikis, instant messaging, enterprise social network,… to provide alternatives to emailing.
Same motivation but lighter solution, Intel and Deloitte have established since 2007 the “no email Friday”.
Let’s capitalize on these few examples to fight for change and militate right now for a ‘responsible emailing’ 🙂