For most people these days, keeping up with the daily onslaught of email is a major challenge. In fact, experts estimate that e-mail has added an extra 1.23 hours to the average person’s workday (E-Writing: 21st Century Tools for Effective Communication by Diana Booher; Managing Your E-Mail by Christina Cavanagh). If you multiply 1.23 hours by 5 days for 52 weeks, the average person is spending 320 hours per year of extra time handling e-mail. Wow! That is a lot of time spent on email. And experts estimate that the time lost to email has caused workers to shave time elsewhere, causing a productivity crunch.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the average U.S. worker spends up to four hours a day sending and receiving e-mail. Of that four hours, it is estimated that one hour each day is spent on the 36 percent of e-mail messages that are either irrelevant, or relevant but do not require a response.
So how do your survive the daily email attack? The following tips will help you manage the flow of email:
- Turn off e-mail alarms and prompts through your e-mail preferences tool. Many people have alarms and prompts set to go off every few minutes upon the arrival of e-mail in their inbox. These continual interruptions make people respond like Pavlov’s dogs every time they hear the “you’ve got mail” chime. Turning off the chime will keep you from interrupting what you were doing to read e-mail in the midst of other projects.
- Plan for the reading and response of e-mail in your daily schedule. Create a proactive method of managing e-mail by setting up time in your day dedicated to e-mail. Do not check e-mail the first thing in the morning, or you risk becoming reactive. Instead, spend the first hour working on the most important project or planning your day out.
- Estimate the amount of time you are spending on e-mail now, and cut that time in half. Deadlines usually make most people more efficient. You may want to spend half of your allocated email time in the morning, and the other half after lunch or before you finish working for the day. The time constraint forces you to prioritize. The e-mails that do not get answered are probably not that important and, thus, deleted, or archived in file folders for future use.
- Create e-mail folders, and direct the flow of e-mail. Create folders in your e-mail system that mirror your paper filing system to reinforce storage and retrieval of important information. In addition, create the folders to reflects your active projects and change your e-mail settings to direct e-mail that contains project-related language to those folders within your inbox. Added bonus: many e-mail systems impose limits on inbox size, but not in a folder.
- Use computer storage folders. For e-mails that need to be kept for a longer period of time, create an electronic filing cabinet, with electronic folders for category names that match the physical files. Use Word or any system your company utilizes and backs up often.
- Save the most recent only. Delete the earlier string of emails and just keep the most current one to avoid saving redundant emails.
- Just save the attachment. If e-mail has an attachment and that is all you need, only save the attachment.
- Control the flow of the e-mail exchange. People often feel they must respond to email instantly. Take time to consider your response and slow the flow of email when an immediate response if unnecessary.
- Refrain from sending irrelevant e-mail. Be careful not to send e-mail just because it’s quick and convenient. The same rules apply to e-mail as regular correspondence – if it doesn’t have to be said, don’t say it.
- Create templates. If you frequently send the same types of emails, create templates that you can use over and over (changing only the specifics each time).
- Create an e-mail ritual. Every Friday before you leave the office, be ruthless about deleting e-mails no longer needed, saving those you need for a week or longer to personal folders, saving those you need longer to Word, and reviewing those in the personal folders to delete any no longer necessary. Make this a weekly habit and your e-mail will be a lot more manageable. You can also do the same thing at the end of every day if you so choose.
Many people are familiar with the above tips, but few actually implement them, leaving them to be reactive instead of proactive. Organizing your e-mail, like any other organizing behavior, allows you to be more productive and better utilize your time and energy. So stop the madness, and do what it takes to take control of your email. Remember, e-mail is supposed to be an electronic communications tool to assist you, not drive you crazy.