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Friday, August 12, 2011

Question of the day: Declutter your inbox and how to conquer email overflow

So, a question came up about how to handle huge volumes of email. There are alot of different approaches out there, but here are a few ideas that work for me:
  • Think before you send:
    • Don't cc EVERYBODY. Some people may not need individual workflow emails, just an occasional project update is all that is needed for some people. 
    • Don't use return receipt WITH read request acknowledgments. If someone reads your email obviously, they got it. ;-)   (and you will just add to your emails!) Also, think about why you are using return receipt and read request -- is it really necessary?
    • Use web based discussion groups instead mailing lists, when possible. Do you have to be on a mailing list? Do you have to keep one? Would a Google group or project group work better (and reduce your email, too)?
    • Subject lines - use them. Make them straight to the point. 
    • Save a copy of your emails in a sent folder vs. cc'ing yourself. Don't add to your inbox.
    • Reply to the original sender not the group. More than likely your email applies to a particular person vs. the group at large. Think before you send.
  • Manage your inbox better.
    • Don't subscribe in multiple formats. If you get news through your reader, don't subscribe to email or phone alerts.  
    • Unsubscribe to anything which is no longer relevant to you. You can always subscribe later.
    • Filter. Set up filters to organize info.
    • File. File. File. Seriously. Strive for a zero inbox.  If you can't bear to delete it, put in a folder or label for later. Get it out of your inbox. If it's a deadline, put it on your calendar. If it's a todo list, put it on your calendar. If it's a procedure, put it in a document (and then put it on your intranet or the web - wherever you put such things).
    • Decline. If you do not need to be part of a particular email discussion, it is okay to ask why you were included. If you just need a project update, it is okay to tell the group that. 
    • Generally, you do not need to read each and every email. Search and delete or scan and delete.
    • ...Delete.Delete. Delete. Delete.
  • Use your tools. 
    •  If you use email for work, keep your work and personal (and perhaps, networking/social media) emails separate. Stick to it. If someone emails you at the wrong address, forward it to the "correct" email address, and answer them from there (also explain that they need to use this address)
    • Use threaded email if at all possible.
    • Use social media appropriately. You may be able to cut down on some email by using social media message, blogging, or tweeting.
    • Sometimes a phone call or IM is the quickest way to resolve something.
    • Use RSS feeds instead of subscribing to news or blogs delivered to your email - that way you can use your reader to quickly scan headlines or just search for relevant topics.  
    • Use virtual calendars, project management tools, collaboration tools, etc. to keep your inbox clean.
    • Emails are not meant to be the archive for procedures, policy decisions, etc. Document appropriately.

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