E-mail may be the biggest form of electronic clutter we face each day, and keeping up with it can be a major hassle. As we discussed earlier, e-mail is one of the most often cited time wasters in modern offices. It can be overwhelming and one of the worst enemies of productivity. The following Email Management tips can help you get more control over your inbox and ensure that important messages don’t get lost.
Delete liberally—and quickly
If an e-mail message is junk or a coupon or advertisement you won’t immediately act on, delete it (advertisements, specials, and coupons will come around again). Don’t let junk mail sit around and clutter up your inbox. If you haven’t gotten into the habit of deleting e-mails right away, you may have a lot of backlog to take care of. To do that more easily, Ben Schorr, Microsoft expert and author of several books, including The Lawyer’s Guide to Microsoft Outlook, advises:
Temporarily sort your inbox by “From” rather than by date. You will likely be able to batch-delete a number of messages or move several at once to a client file or other archive or storage method.
Next, sort by “Subject.” This will group related messages together, and again, you may be able to delete several at once, such as e-mails scheduling appointments that have already taken place, duplicate messages, or e-mails that are part of a string. Finally, sort your inbox in reverse date order. The older the message, the less likely that it will be important and the easier it will be to delete. Remove yourself from one e-mail list per day. That’s right. If you don’t really participate in an e-mail list, get off it. No one will hate you for it, and if you find that you really need to be on the list, then resubscribe.
Separate tasks from e-mails
If an e-mail represents a task that you need to complete, move it to your tasks folder (in Outlook, just drag and drop the message onto Tasks; the body of the e-mail will remain intact as part of the task). Alternatively, you can create to-do lists and/or action folders for those e-mails or use third-party tools that help you manage e-mails as tasks. Just get e-mails out of your inbox. Move appointments to your calendar. If you are keeping an e-mail simply as an appointment reminder, get the information into your calendar right away and toss the e-mail. (If you use Outlook, just drag and drop the message to your calendar and all of the information in the e-mail will stay with the appointment.)
If the e-mail requires action by someone else, forward it to that person right away with a note. Then get the original e-mail out of your inbox by deleting it, moving it to an alternate folder for follow-up, or converting it into a task for follow-up.
Keep only business e-mail in your business e-mail account.
Don’t clutter your regular e-mail inbox with newsletters, subscriptions, and the like. Create a separate account for them so they’re not in the way of your main personal or business messages. Make a separate shopping account for e-mail such as sales promotions and shipping confirmations. There are many free services you can use for this purpose, including Google’s Gmail.
Don’t make the mistake of “reviewing” your e-mails and planning to go back and respond to them later. It just creates extra work and may result in important client messages getting lost. If you’re going to review your e-mails, respond when you first read the message if at all possible.
Do More in Less Time
This post was adapted from the Law Practice Division’s publication How to Do More in Less Time. In this book, authors Allison Shields and Daniel Siegel share tips for boosting efficiency and improving your bottom line.