You've got mail
OVERLOAD seems more apparent with email, because the medium somehow feels more urgent and
immediate than other forms of communication such as letters. If this overload is getting
on top of you, here's some tips for getting back in control.
Use a little discipline
We could all use a little discipline, and I dont mean from
Madam (or Mister) Sin. We can reduce the e-load by being a little more decisive and a
little less lazy.
- Restrict your email access times: If you're
constantly aware of your incoming messages, you'll become a slave to the medium. Set aside
two or three times a day when you can concentrate on reading, responding and composing
messages. Don't be interrupted throughout the day by pop-up messages and jingles
announcing your new mail - turn those features off.
- Read each message once and only once: This is a bit
like handling your traditional mail. It's all too easy to browse through each letter and
then put it aside to deal with later - when you have to read it all over again. One of the
quickest ways to empty the contents of your in-box is to read each message and deal with
- Keep your in-box clear: There's nothing more
satisfying than an empty in-box - unless it's a clear desk. Achieving this goal requires
you to take action each time you've finished handling your mail - simply archive those
messages you're likely to refer to again and then delete the rest, permanently.
Use your right to reply
- Think before you reply to all: Do you
really intend to respond to the sender, not all the other addressees? Remember that one
person's valuable information is another's junk mail.
- Cut down on acknowledgements: It's a natural part of
communication to acknowledge a response - it's a way of completing the transaction. But
not all communications will seem incomplete without them, so you may be able to cut down.
You can tell your readers if there's no need to reply. And with some software you can make
a check to see if an email has been read, without any action on the part of the reader.
- Follow threads, within reason: You create a 'thread'
when you make a reply and send back the original message along with it. This allows the
reader to follow the thread of the topic and put your reply a context. However, threads
can build up until you are exchanging monstrous messages that go back months. Sometimes
it's better to start again and leave the baggage behind.
- Tell senders if you dont need their mail: If
you get mail you don't need, reply to the sender and tell them just that. You can't blame
them for sending you unnecessary mail if you don't tell them. And all those mailing lists
you joined, just to keep you up-to-date - if you haven't found them helpful, simply
unsubscribe and cut down on the junk.
Use your software
- Get to know your software: We don't all have the time
to delve into our email software - we just learn the basics and hope for the best. But the
latest software is packed with features, many of which can make your life easier. Ask for
some training, buy a book or just explore the menus and the on-line help - it doesn't take
as long as you think.
- Use filters to reduce the junk: Some software
incorporates filters that can be used to keep out junk mail or adult content. One
consultant was receiving half a dozen of these a day; by employing the filters he's down
to one every two or three days.
- Use mailing lists in moderation: Mailing lists really
do save you time and help you to get important information to those who really need it,
without having to type in each email address one at a time. But, to minimise the risk of
drowning readers in mail from lists, they need to be focused on very specific subjects.
Ideally each member of a list will have volunteered for the information and will have the
opportunity to unsubscribe. Above all, avoid the worst mailing list of all - the one that
mails every employee in the organisation.
- Sort mail into folders: Your email software may allow
you to sort your mail into folders and thus avoid a single, lengthy list of messages in
your in-box. You could sort messages by sender, by project, by subject or by the action
Dont have a downer on email. Used for the right reasons and in
the right way, it should actually save you time:
- waiting to get through on the phone
- waiting for the snail mail to arrive
- composing and despatching conventional memos
It also reduces the amount of paper on your desk and cuts
down on unnecessary interruptions, whether by phone or in person. And remember, when
youve returned from holiday to a thousand electronic communications, all marked
urgent, it could be worse - you could have no emails at all.
Interested in finding out more about this subject? Try http://email.miningco.com
1Forrester Research Group
4Investors in People UK and Andersen Consulting