Email management is essentially time management. We communicate through email, in many instances, more than we communicate in person or over the telephone. We typically don’t decide one day just not to answer emails, nor do we typically dedicate an entire day to answering them for the week. If your email is anything like mine, you may have hundreds show up over the course of just a few days. So, what do we do to keep it all under control?
If you have a tool such as MS Office Outlook or Lotus Notes, your world may be a little easier, but these tools aren’t absolutely necessary, just handy.
1. Schedule time to read and respond to emails.
If you need two or three hours a day, schedule them, spread them out. Focus only on getting through your email during these times. Mark the times out on your calendar and treat this time as you would a business meeting. This is YOUR time to take care of email.
2. Reference or Action
I found in an article online that classifying email as either “reference” or “action” can save up to fifty minutes per day when trying to file or find an email. Classify every email (excluding junk and spam) as either a reference email, or an action email. There is software available on the market for this, but you can build your own system easily enough.
3. Work the emails in order.
Don’t skip around. However you have them sorted in your inbox, stick to it and work from the top down (or bottom up if that is your system). Doing this will prevent you from overlooking or deleting something important.
4. Made a decision on every email.
Don’t mark them to read later, or mark them as new because you don’t have time to work through them… make a decision. Can the task be done in two minutes or less? Set up folders within your email and slip the emails into the correct folders:
a. Delete—junk. If you don’t need it, don’t keep it. Your memory on your computer or your IT team will appreciate this.
b. Delegate – the joys of having a semblance of power (whether perceived or real). If someone else can take care of a task (and it is within your reach to do so), delegate the task to her. Make sure you follow up (which may require a flag of some sort so that the task doesn’t fall through the cracks.)
c. Get it done – this is where the two minute rule comes into play. If a task must be completed by you, and you cannot get it completed within two minutes, slide the email into this folder. These tasks are to be completed after the other emails have been sorted.
d. Work in progress. If you’re working on something, keep it in here until it’s completed.
I have to constantly remind myself not to jump onto my email until the designated time because it is so easy to get lost in the whirl of communication. Roughly 100 emails can be processed in an hour once you have a system in order to work through them. Hang in there, establish your rules, and hop on it. The time you save can be spent on something far more exciting!