Follow these top ten email tips and you’ll be pleasantly surprised how productive you will become in handling email and how much time you’ll save. You’ll also discover that it is really possible to reduce (even empty) your inbox.

1. Do not do email first thing in the morning. Once you plan out your day, work on your most important task (MIT) for the first hour you are in the office while you are fresh and alert. Then, start email. (Note: it’s OK to glance through email first thing in the morning to make sure that you have not missed anything significant, such as an urgent email from your supervisor or a cancelled meeting.)

2. Schedule several blocks of uninterrupted email time – one mid-morning and a second in the afternoon. Use a timer to keep you focused and on track. Plan on spending 45 minutes – one hour reviewing email that needs to be handled right away. The rest can wait. When you are checking email, try and stay focused. That means not allowing internal and external distractions. Let phone calls go to voicemail and indicate that you are “busy” on your calendar. If you think of something that needs to be done, jot it down on a pad of paper and continue to read and answer email. Make the best use you can of the email time you’ve allotted yourself.

3. Move or drag email out of the inbox. Do not let it sit there.Commit to making a decision on   each email. Delaying decisions creates havoc in your inbox. Your inbox is not a filing cabinet.   View your email inbox as just that – an In Box — where email arrives that need processing. Imagine how cluttered and messy your kitchen counters might look like if you ignored incoming snail mail. You’d be lucky to find anything.

4. Decide if the email is action or reference. Start at the top of your inbox and look at each email in order. Do not skip around. If it is action, follow the 4Ds (#5). If it is reference and will be needed again, move it to personal documents, shared files or the personal folders in the inbox. Examples of reference folders are: inactive clients, proposals, past projects, and marketing materials.

5. Use the 4D’s of Decision Making. This valuable tool eliminates a lot of the guess work about how to handle individual emails and where to move them. It is a sure-fire way to reduce the email in your inbox.

  • Delete – approximately 50% can be deleted. Ask yourself: Must I keep this? Can I access this information somewhere else if I ever need it? Will this information be out of date by the time I need it? Am I ever going to read it?
  • Do It – if it takes less than two minutes.
  • Delegate It – 30% falls into the do it or delegate it category.
  • Defer It – The 20% that needs to be handled by you directly but takes more than two minutes. Move this email into one of the following locations: your task list (with a due date), your calendar (on the specific day you will work on it) or an appropriate folder to work on later.

6. Set up specific folders for action items, current projects and reference and move email to the appropriate folder. Examples of folders: To Do, To Call, Waiting For (or Pending), Read & Review, Upcoming Meetings/Events, Cases, Clients, Current Projects, Associations. My favorite personal folder is “Read Later”. The email in this folder can wait.

7. When sending an email:

  • Create a strong subject line that is clear and specific.
  • Put your main point in the first sentence; then explain.
  • Tell the reader exactly what you want.
  • Keep the length within a screen size by making your sentences and paragraphs short.
  • Use simple, concise language.
  • Leave lots of white space, making it easier to read and to follow.
  • Be sensitive to the subject – sometimes a phone call or face-to-face conversation is better.

8. Respond to the sender promptly even if you cannot give an answer right away. Let the sender know the email was received. Now the sender will not need to send a follow up note because you were proactive. That will be appreciated.

9. Use “Reply All” judiciously. Usually a reply to the sender is all that’s necessary. Not everyone needs to know you’re leaving for vacation and cannot attend the meeting.

10. Move important folders to the Cloud such as Dropbox and SugarSync. If anything happens to your hard drive, your information will be safe.

Often people with hundreds, or even thousands of emails, feel totally overwhelmed and have no idea where to start. We recommend that they set up a system that works using these tips as a guide and then manage the newest emails first. Ignore the older emails or move them into archives where you can deal with them later.

By using a few of these tips, your inbox will be manageable. Finding the email you need will be much easier. You’re the one in control now.



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