Feeling somewhat chastened by my recent admission of poor email management, so I resolved to do something about it. Here are a few of the things I am trying:
1. I have to accept that I'm not that important - so I don't need to read and respond to every email as it arrives. I am trying to handle emails in a couple of blocks of time each day. One tip I read, which I am struggling to follow, is that you shouldn't deal with email first thing in the morning. This is a good time when you're fresh and undistracted to get on with more important jobs. Email - so they say - can wait. I agree with the principle, but it's a tough one to follow.
2. Turn off distracting email alerts - I turned off the audible alert years ago but I left the envelope icon at the bottom of the screen. I have turned that off too, and after an initial period of anxiety I feel less hassled by email.
3. Email isn't the only means of communication - if something really is urgent a client will phone or a colleague will stick their head round your door and ask their question in person. Sometimes it's just nicer to have that human inter-action.
4. Handle each email once only - my wife drives me nuts with our post, she opens it, read it and then puts each item back in its envelope for me to read - or more likely throw away - later! Don't do that with email. If you follow step 1 above, you should only be reading email when you have time to deal with it. I try to follow the 'Four Ds' principle with all emails -
- deal with it, if it's not going to take too long
- delete it if it doesn't need action or have any future value
- delegate it, if it needs action but doesn't need me to do it
- defer, if it needs more time. In that case I tag it with a reminder date and time. If it's from a client I send an acknowledgement and let them know when I plan to reply.
5. Junk email is a distraction I could do without, so I use a lot of Rules in Outlook to delete regular stuff that gets through our spam filter. If it's just junk mail I try to unsubscribe from legitimate lists, others I add to the Black List so they get shredded automatically before I see them.
6. Get rid of the scroll bar - when you have finished with your Inbox it should fit on a single screen, no scrolling down a long list of emails. If I want to keep an email but don't plan to deal with it immediately I'll move it into a Follow Up folder so it's not constantly in front of me when I check my Inbox.
7. Save important client emails - we use a normal Windows file structure on our sever for all client files, outgoing post, working papers, etc, so I save a PDF of client emails in the correspondence folder so any team member can read them. I usually give the file a fairly long, descriptive name so that it's obvious what it's about. The free Cute PDF printer is ideal for this if you don't have one already.
I feel I have made progress, even in the last week. I am still struggling with the temptation to read and reply to emails continuously throughout the day but I'm determined not to get sucked back in now I have started.
Any other email rehab tips would be greatly appreciated, please post a Comment below.