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E-mail: managing the inbox - Chuck Jacobs (5/01)

The amount of knowledge and information in the world is doubling every two years and if you are like many knowledge workers, it feels like all the new information is coming across your desk via e-mail.
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The amount of knowledge and information in the world is doubling every two years and if you are like many knowledge workers, it feels like all the new information is coming across your desk via e-mail.

There's no question e-mail, when used ineffectively, has am impact on productivity.

It's an amazing case study to watch an organization implement e-mail technology. A few (usually older) employees are reluctant, even afraid, to use and trust the "new-fangled mail system" at first. As all staff navigate the learning curve at their own pace, it's not long before every position relies on e-mail to be "in the know." E-mail abuse follows soon after where the number of daily e-mails climbs to double and then triple digits. It becomes easy to spend hours per day reacting to new messages instead of implementing a prioritized plan.

But think of the paper we're saving, right? Wrong! One office supply store suggests they see a 40 per cent increase in paper purchased after their clients install e-mail.

The cost of supplies would pale beside the potential cost in terms of time wasted by excess e-mail. Consider one message (say concerning the promotion of John Doe to senior janitor in the branch office in Moosonee) sent to 50 people. In snail-mail days we would have included that tidbit in a quarterly newsletter. But since there's no cost to e-mail, we send it out to the complete company list. If everyone takes only 30 seconds to read this message, just long enough to delete it, the company has just spent 25 minutes (and that's not accounting for the person who actually printed and posted the message.)

Here are some "best practice" techniques for managing e-mail:

Open e-mail only when you actually have some time to respond to it, and file important ones.

Treat e-mail like you do snail mail; open your inbox a maximum of four times per day.

If your e-mail program has a "preview" feature, use it to scan new messages for the higher priority ones first.

You wouldn't let a letter carrier interrupt you every time he brought you a letter - turn off the sound and notification features for new e-mail.

Let others know when you would like to be removed from a distribution list.

Write brief responses. Those you communicate with frequently will adopt your style.

Do not use messages in your inbox to remind you of things to do. Reminders go on your to-do list or in the tasks or calendar functions.

Reduce the number of e-mails you send by delegating a list of tasks in one e-mail instead of firing off a new message with every single idea.

Develop a company "e-mail etiquette."

Create a logical storage method, using folders and subfolders, for storing relevant messages.

If you are truly effective in managing e-mail, then your inbox will be emptied at least once each and every day.

It's tremendous if you can master these techniques at the office because you probably have the same e-mail

challenges when you get home.

Chuck Jacobs is the president of Priority Management in Sudbury.




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