Tips to Manage Incoming E-mail

Friends, colleagues, and clients are all telling me that one of their biggest challenges is trying to manage e-mail overload. They say everyone wants something from them and consequently, they're buried in e-mail. Is this a struggle for you? If so, here are a few tips that will save you some time in reading and receiving e-mail.

1. Limit personal e-mail at work.

Yes, this may seem a drastic step but it's one that will help you stay focused on priorities so you can complete your work and then spend time doing the things that mean the most to you.

2. Use a spam program.

Your employer or ISP may already cover this but if you are running your own system you'll want a spam blocker to help minimize unwanted e-mail as much as possible. (Tip: PC World rates Cloudmark's SpamNet as one of the best.)

3. Use folders to store e-mail.

Your inbox isn't a storage facility, it's for incoming mail. Create folders within your e-mail program that "mirror" the folders you use to store hardcopy in your office/workspace.

4. Change the subject of e-mails to summarize its content.

Make it easy to find any e-mail you decide to keep by changing the subject. For example: if you receive an e-mail with the subject "Update" and it turns out to be a request for you to send someone an update, change the subject to "Send John Doe product update on 8/29/05." This functionality is available in most e-mail programs.

5. Limit the frequency with which you review and process incoming e-mail to 2 or 3x's per day.

Pick times other than when you are most focused, creative, or energized.

6. As a general rule, separate the task of "processing" your incoming e-mail from "working" on your e-mail.

Exception: If you can reply or forward an e-mail in a minute or two, do it, then delete it. Otherwise, save the doing/replying/composing for a later work period.

7. Organize your e-mail by "Received" order.

In other words, make sure you've set up your inbox so the newest e-mails are on top.

8. Empty your e-mail inbox in five steps. Here's how:

  • Scan all e-mail and delete the spam. It's impossible to filter out all spam but you can learn to recognize it so you don't waste time opening it or getting a virus. Common characteristics include: a random series of numbers in the "From" address, the "Subject" is followed by six spaces then a number, or the subject ends with three exclamation marks.
  • Review remaining e-mails from oldest to newest and in order of importance. Read "high importance" and "to do" e-mails, then scan "FYI's" and "newsletter" e-mails.
  • If an e-mail contains information you want to reference later: a) drag it to the appropriate e-mail folder, or b) print it, delete it and file the hardcopy with like material.
  • If an e-mail requires that you take an action: a) record the action in your calendar, then b) delete it or file it for future reference.
  • If after reviewing an e-mail you determine it has no future value, delete it.
The volume of e-mail you receive isn't likely to slow down. In fact, Bill Gates, Business Week and a host of other industry experts say e-mail overload is a drag on productivity. Try these techniques and don't let electronic missives get you down.

Pam N. Woods is co-author of a bestselling book, Create the Business Breakthrough You Want: Secrets and Strategies from the World's Greatest Mentors; endorsed by Ken Blanchard and Dr. Stephen Covey. She is a Coach U graduate and President of Smart WorkLife Solutions, a coaching and consulting company devoted to co-creating customized solutions to fit clients business and personal organizing needs. Prior to founding her own firm she had a successful 20+ year career as an insurance executive and Vice President of Human Resources. For more free how-to articles and advice, or to contact Woods, visit http://www.worklifecoach.com Copyright 2005 - Pam Woods

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