Four ideas to save email time

Every large company I’ve ever helped with productivity and time management has employees moaning about emails. Business owners across the country, whether the company is large or small all comment on emails, whether that’s good – or bad! Generally the complaints are about how they soak up time and prevent them from getting work done.

Sometimes it’s even worse: recently, a team that I was working with had become convinced that dealing with emails were their job, and that selling things on the phone was a distraction!

Will the problem go away on its own?

The other day, I was listening to a great presentation by a social media expert; he shared some research showing that the younger generation are sending fewer emails and use social media more. They can cut the communication down to 140 characters via Twitter and can file share using collaborative file sharing websites. Perhaps email is simply becoming an out of date technology?

Other than feeling old, it set me thinking about how, only 12 years ago or so, email was something wondrous which saved time and solved all sorts of problems. We didn’t get stacks of paper in the post, we didn’t lose things in the post, etc, etc, etc.

What if you stopped emailing files for people to review, and simply agreed that you’d use a file sharing system and work collaboratively, allowing people to check things when they needed to – would this improve things for you?

Four ideas to save email time:

Improving your email habits can drastically increase your productivity. Any new approach takes focus and practice, but after a while, they’ll become habits that support you.

  1. Check email only at scheduled times, and for a specified amount of time. For example, twice a day for 10-15 minutes works well. Don’t allow Outlook to synchronise, or just disconnect it until the next scheduled time. While you’re adjusting your Outlook settings, get rid of the distracting little flag that comes up when you’re working in another system which says “You’ve got email”.
  2. Unsubscribe to things, but be wary of doing so if it’s simply going to tell a spamming agency that they’ve found a real address. Make sure you receive only the things you really want to – and do – read.
  3. Reduce the amount of copied email (i.e. cc’d from colleagues) to only that which is essential. Do you really need to have lots of copy emails? Or are you simply becoming acontrol freak? Don’t you trust your colleagues?
  4. “Slash and burn” on your first pass through your inbox. Then use the second pass for replies and other follow-up actions.
Another modern variation

New technology such as the iPhone, BlackBerry, etc. simply moves the problem from your PC to your pocket; or does it? Do you find that these devices help productivity by making better use of your time, or do they waste your time because it’s harder to escape?

Feel free to share your tips for better use of mobile email technologies below. For more tips and tricks to be more email-efficient, check out Heather’s advice on getting your heaving inbox under control.

Heather Townsend, Britain’s queen of networking, is the founder of The Efficiency Coach, a company that helps professionals achieve better business results for less effort. Follow her Joined Up Networking blog for more useful tips and tricks. She has just been commissioned to write the FT Guide to Business Networking.

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