Thursday, May 13, 2010

How to Manage Email Better

Email is great for a lot of reasons. But like most good things out there it can also prove to be stressful. The more we use something, the more difficult it gets to be with time. Familiarity breeds some stress if not managed right, after all. If you're in a line of work like mine where attending to email is indispensable then time management is key. I get a large number of emails every day. Which, of course means, that I write a lot of emails per day.

Between work, writing, various forms of sociality i.e., personal life, family, friendships, miscellaneous interests and so forth, the inbox gets a whole lot of daily action. Receiving 50-60 emails a day is a normal thing for me which means I have my work cut out. Attending to email is necessary. This is, at the core, a time management skill, however.
When it comes to email replies, I believe in sticking to the point and attending to all the received questions in a manner that's informed by economy of space and time. If a topic needs to be discussed further I make it a point to attend to it in person, per phone, or at a later time in a separate email.

Here is a list I have been developing over the years re: email management:

1) Stay on topic. If the person is emailing you asking about, say, dinner plans, stick to dinner in your reply.
Eg.: Question: "How about a little dinner at that bistro you like?"
Answer: "Sure. Good to go at 7:00."

2) It is difficult to attend to every email the moment it gets in your mailbox. Thanks to smartphones and uber-quick computers and apps, we know the moment new mail makes it to our respective inboxes. However, that does not mean that you need to attend to it right then and there. See where you are and what you are doing at the moment. If you're in traffic and your iPhone is signaling new mail, ignore it. I firmly believe in not using the phone/email/texts when operating a vehicle. If you're speaking face to face with someone, the email you received will just have to wait. This is not just good manners, it's simply good time management. Even the best multitasker cannot do every well at the same time.

3) Create a hierarchy of urgency. If an email is truly urgent, attend to it right away. If it can wait, then it will wait. If your friend is emailing to know if you'd like to get together during the weekend and he emails you on a Monday, chances are he can wait till the end of the day or the next day even to get a reply.

4) Discuss email boundaries with people in your life so that they know what your modus operandi consists of. If the people in your life are used to you attending to communication right away and for some reason your schedule changes and you can't write back right away, inform them of the change. Be proactive. We live in the age of social media and Web 2.0 and we need to attend to relationships the way our parents did in the email-free day.

5) Write vacation notifications especially for work-related communication and local relationships. As it is the case with other relationships in life, communication and straightforwardness is key. Inform the interested parties that you are away and that you will attend to your emails when you are available.

6) Manage subscriptions. If you subscribe to various online publications, go over the list and see which ones you could be ok without.

7) Put things in perspective. Take time out for all of your daily tasks. They all hold some importance or else you wouldn't do them. It helps some people to only check their email four times a day during certain times of the day. Other people do so twice a day, once in the morning and another time in the evening.

8) Take good care of you first. Email is not supposed to be a source of stress and anxiety. It's a wonderful tool that facilitates communication. Consider it so. If it gets to be much, take a little break, shut your gadgets off and go for a quick run, ride your bike, or go people watch and see for yourself that face-to-face communication is not something that only Charles Dickens and Jane Austen knew a thing or two about.

9) Notification-free zone. If your working space is anything like mine, you have an array of sounds going off all the time. There's the text message signal, the new mail signal, the return-email sound, the alarm clock for this and that task/chore et al. If you're intent on finishing a task, then you need to concentrate sans the stress of the impending sounds. By disabling all notification sounds, much can be accomplished.

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JJ said...

I feel anxiety sometimes when checking my email. I feel like I have to reply to everything right away. I like the notification-free zone idea. It's good to just relax at times and shift to face-to-face communication.

Anonymous said...

Or as a certain someone says 'give me the memo version.' :)