Tips for managing work e-mail from Kaitlin Duck Sherwood, who runs the site www.overcomeemailoverload.com:
• Recognize that your inbox is your to-do list. Think of it as such and treat it as such. • Get spam out of your inbox, using an anti-spam software package. • If you are on an e-mail list that is purely informational — where messages never turn into “to-do” items — use rules/filters to move those messages to a subfolder. You can read them on a day when you don’t have anything better to do. • Get off of as many e-mail lists as you can. Will the day come when you don’t have anything better to do than to read that mailing list? If not, get off the list. • Move messages out of your inbox when you no longer need to read, respond to or act upon a message. Don’t beat yourself up about how you aren’t filing your messages properly; just make a folder named “Done” and put all your “Done” messages there. Some programs have a button that does this automatically. • Use rules/filters to prioritize your inbox. If possible, use rules to assign each message a category (or label) based on what group the sender belongs to. If you assign the categories so that they sort in the same order as their probable importance, then you can easily sort your inbox to list messages in roughly the order you want to deal with them. • Save and reuse responses to questions that you get frequently. • Discuss only one issue per message. People frequently forget about all but the first or last question, and thus you have to send/receive more messages to deal with the missing answer. • If someone you know sends you messages you don’t want (like hoaxes or jokes), ask them very politely to stop.
Three hours already into a Monday morning workday, and Don Steeples has already received 24 e-mails.
“Typical,” says Steeples, senior vice provost at Kansas University.
It’s a necessary evil these days: E-mails — both important and spam — flow into in-boxes. Spend too much time answering them, and your day is shot; spend too little time, and you risk missing an important message.
For Steeples, the answer is simple in philosophy if not practice: prioritize.
“I look at the most high priority first, then answer immediately,” Steeples says. “If I need additional info, I’ll put it in my draft box. If it’s there I know it needs attention later on.”
Steeples also says that he only puts a few important e-mails in his draft box at a time because if he had a large number of e-mails in his draft box, his draft box would not be so manageable or efficient.
That’s a good plan, says Eddy Dreger, partner of the Lawrence Internet service firm Brotsman and Dreger Inc. He suggests sorting work e-mails according to the sender, topic, project or other category to make it easier to find and prioritize.
“I take e-mails from specific customers or clients and move them into their companies’ folders,” Dreger says.
Dreger also manages e-mails according to his mailing lists and labels these folders weekly beginning with the week’s start date. This allows Dreger to have his e-mails from important mailing lists available to read at another time.
Nicki Curtis, who is an information technology support consultant or the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, has a similar system. She sets up folders with different categories of messages, and if she receives an e-mail that does not fall into any of her specific folders, she leaves that e-mail in her in-box. By doing this, Curtis can then manage that e-mail in her in-box, knowing exactly where that e-mail is.
Another way to manage one’s work e-mails is using a junk folder. Almost all e-mail users have a vast amount of junk e-mails entering into there accounts daily, no matter the precautions. Nevertheless all companies usually have a firewall or spam filter to sift out junk e-mails.
“A firewall is hardware or software that is in place to block unsafe incoming commands or information into your system,” Curtis says. “It is like a police officer letting things in and out.”
Steeples says that his computer has a spam filter and that he deletes junk e-mails if they do come into his account. Dreger says his company uses a spam filter that he wrote himself where junk e-mails get flagged and set aside.
While Steeples says it’s time-consuming to answer e-mails, there is a plus side: His phone hardly ever rings any more.