Email is a wonderful tool which is essential to our day-to-day work, but are we using it properly?
According to the Radicati report on email statistics, we send and receive an average of 127 emails at work every day, a number which keeps on getting bigger. The goal of this post is to get us out of this infinite email loop.
Before reading any further, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I have my email client open for fewer than 90 minutes a day?
- Do I decide when to receive emails on my smartphone?
- When I need to communicate something to someone situated fewer than 20 metres from my workstation, do I talk to them directly in person?
- Do I clearly define the email subject, and before hitting send do I take 10 seconds to review who the email is for and who is copied in?
If you have responded no to any of these questions, there is much you can do to improve your email management.
The Inbox Zero technique aims to keep the inbox empty every day to help achieve a continued sense of control over the activity.
It suggests that we should process emails within a maximum of 3 blocks of continuous time of no more than 30 minutes each, and classify each email according to the following:
- Respond: If the response will take fewer than 2 minutes, respond and then delete or archive the email.
- Do: If the email requires action by you that will take fewer than 2 minutes to effect, don’t stall. Do the task and then delete or archive the email.
- Delegate: Ask yourself—Am I the most appropriate person to carry out the action required? If in doubt, clearly identify the best person, explain the matter to them and forward them the email.
- Defer: If the action resulting from the email will take more than 2 minutes, postpone it until after having gone through your inbox and after having performed your main tasks (other than processing your emails).
- Delete: Despite being last on the list, the most important step is delete, delete and delete. This is the toughest action to perform. Emails fill up our inbox, take up time and—worst of all—take up mental energy. It’ll be hard at first, but after a trial period of a couple of weeks it’ll be the action which saves you most time.
Alongside this level of email management and the four initial questions in the post there is another key point: the what, when and how of writing emails.
- Don’t communicate emotions, whether positive or negative. We are all people, and good or bad news is most constructively communicated face to face or by another means.
- Don’t write an email if you have received a negatively-charged one. Remember the previous point.
- Review before sending and take 10 seconds to review the subject, and especially the addressee and cc’d contacts.
- Check that the text is all the same font and that any attachments are actually attached.
- We are all people, we are all human. Where possible, handle the issue directly, face to face, to save time and prevent the infinite email loop.
Lastly, make one final reflection before writing any email: What would happen if I could only send 10 emails a day?