In the last post, Effective Leadership – Part II – 6 Steps to Manage Your Time Effectively, we discussed techniques to help you stay organized and get the most important things done. In this post, we’ll talk about methods to help combat email!
It is estimated that the average person receives 140 and sends 45 emails per day! Unfortunately for once, I’m above average! How do you stack up against this average? I know I receive a lot more than that! I don’t think I send that many, but maybe it’s time I count!
Here’s a few of the techniques to help with email:
1) Rules, rules, and more rules!
My saying on this is “read what you want to read, when you want to read it, not what is sent to you”. Many emails are regular reports that can be processed by an email rule to be saved to a predetermined file folder. You can then go to the folder when it is most convenient for you or when you actually need the data. Some emails can even go straight to your delete folder!
2) Use “Show as Conversations”
Too many people use email to carry on a conversation. You should try and stop this if you see an email go back and forth more than 3 times. However, sometimes you just can’t stop it in time or may not have the ability to do so. Set-up your emails with the “show as conversations” feature which will consolidate an email thread together and show you the last email in the chain. This helps avoid having to read through many emails as you can usually get all caught up by reading the last one received. If you need more info, you can just read down in the last email to get what you need. When you delete or move the emails you can do so in one step versus having to do so with each individual email.
3) Differentiate Senders with conditional formatting
Not all emails are of the same importance, so don’t treat them equally. Use the “conditional formatting” feature to highlight and differentiate by changing the font of incoming emails from certain people. You can bold them, increase the font size, or change the colour of their emails so they really stand out in your inbox. I use bold red font to highlight emails incoming from my boss and other higher level leaders and bold blue for my team to differentiate these higher priority emails from all the others.
4) Avoid double handling
When I worked in renovation/construction projects years ago, a boss taught me to avoid having to move materials twice. Plan ahead so you put them where you need them and so you don’t have to move them again. I’ve adopted that with email. Set-up email folders which your rules automatically process and move certain emails to, or you manually move them to after reading and/or taking action. The point is if you are going to open an email, take care of it. Don’t open and then say, “oh I’ll come back to it later”. Typically, it is a quick response. If it requires more than that, then file it appropriately using the “@5 Essential email folders” which will be the topic of the next post.
5) Set a goal to have an empty inbox before you leave for the day
If you relentlessly follow the above 4 steps, you should set a goal that when you leave for the day your inbox is empty. Although not always achievable, it is a good goal to develop the discipline of setting up rules, filing appropriately, and avoiding double handling. It also reduces your stress of seeing that never ending inbox! It is achievable! I achieve this goal often and when I don’t I look to see what more can do to leverage technology to assist.
Leverage technology to assist you, don’t be a slave to it!”
6) The OOTO holding file
I admit although I do have one, I have difficulty with this as I’m always afraid I’ll miss something. However, many leaders use this process successfully. When you have been out of the office (OOTO) for an extended period of time and have not been able to keep up or maybe even check email, move any emails that are more than 2-3 days old to a “OOTO Holding” file. Then review and process the last 1-2 days of emails. If by chance you need one of the emails that are older than that, you can just pull them from the “OOTO Holding” file. In most cases, if it’s that important someone will follow-up with you when you return or you will find reference to it in the more recent emails. After a couple of weeks, you can delete the emails in the “OOTO Holding” file.
Hope you found this useful. As always, let me know by clicking “Like” or contribute to the post by leaving a comment.
The next post will discuss the “@5 Essential Email Folders”, which I consider to be my secret weapon of email effectiveness!
If you’ve missed the beginning of this series of posts on Leadership, check out the first post What is Leadership?