When asked what aspects of email are tripping them up, most professionals identify the following factors: spam, too much non-spam, poor organization, too invasive and time-wasting. Fortunately, there are some simple management techniques we can all use to better manage this inflow.
Since almost the beginning of business adoption of the Internet and email, productivity experts have been preaching the mantra of time management and prioritization. After all, just because the technology is new doesn’t mean that the underlying issue of effective personal time usage is new. Even Stephen Covey, PhD., the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, has included email management as part of the third “habit” when speaking of modern professionals. Here are some tips to better email management.
5 SIMPLE EMAIL PRODUCTIVITY TIPS
- Schedule your inbound email usage. As Dr. Covey noted, if we are simply responsive to messaging, that doesn’t mean we are managing it. So turn off the alerts that tell you that you’ve got mail. Most emails aren’t emergencies, and a great deal of them are actually spam. And even a lot of the “good” email isn’t something that needs immediate action. People contacting you have alternate methods of reaching you if it is an emergency (IM, text, phone, other office staff, etc.). I try to check my email twice in the morning, twice in the afternoon and occasionally in the evening.
- Use spam filters; they work. And there are additional inexpensive tools available at technology stores. If you still suffer from egregious junk mail, consider having a local tech consultant enhance your filters. If it saves you five minutes per day, would it be worth a few hundred dollars?
- Utilize foldering techniques. While most professionals use folders to some extent, users can also set up rules that can automatically route email from certain people/clients into specific folders. So email from your contact at client ABC Trucking can automatically go into that client folder. Likewise, emails from your boss, other staff, or even friends and relatives can automatically be routed to separate folders. This can help prioritize more important messaging over less important. For instance, you often know that emails from particular people are not likely to contain urgent matters.
- Delete or move items. It was true with paper, and it’s true in the digital paperless age: Professional accountants hate to throw things away. But in the case of email, much of what clutters our inboxes is email threads that include several replies. Deleting all but the most recent will still let you keep all of the message thread. If you still don’t want to delete things, consider additional subfolders. For example, in the folder for client ABC Trucking, you could have additional subfolders for different contacts at the client, for specific engagements or for fiscal periods. When tasks/issues are accomplished, simply move the messages into the appropriate subfolders. This can help with management and finding messages in the future. Many professional practice management and document management systems also offer automated email functions.
- Be concise. The amount of time we put into communication should depend on the level of formality required by law or practice requirement (engagement letters, etc.) and the level of formality expected by the client. But email is also used for many interoffice communications that require little, if any formality at all. Sometimes quick is best, so if you can say something in six words, don’t spend a dozen. It comes down to managing communication instead of letting it dictate when and how we respond. This starts by prioritizing the messaging, channeling it into more filterable streams, and then digging into it in manageable ways.
It comes down managing communication instead of letting it dictate when and how we are responsive to it. This starts by prioritizing the messaging and channeling it into more filterable streams, and then digging into it in manageable ways.