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My top 8 tips for managing your e-mails

Getting e-mails sorted out is becoming more and more nightmarish.  Finding out how to manage the incessant flow of incoming e-mails has become the main objective of people attending my personal effectiveness courses.

So here are quick tips to get you started:

  1. Don’t start with your e-mails, do something important first.  I have written about this in this article in French.  If you start your day by checking your e-mails, you are training your brain to be reactive, says neuro-surgeon and management expert, Patrick Georges.  
  2. Configure your e-mail software so that it starts in your calendar, not your inbox.   Using Outlook, you can do this through the “Tools – Options – Other” tabs.  This simple change will allow you to have a better grasp of what your day looks like before you need to start negotiating the new e-mails you have received.
  3. Disable all new email notification alerts.  We are curious by nature, so we will check new e-mails as they come in.  If we have a preview of what has arrived, we will also open up new items in our brain – without making any true decisions about them.  So if you keep the new email notification alerts (sound and pop-up), you keep taxing your work memory.  In addition, you keep interrupting yourself – which is the worse thing you can do to your own productivity.  If you absolutely need to, you can always configure your e-mail software so that it provides an alert for specific messages.
  4. Deal with your e-mails in batches.  On average, we tend to check our inbox about 30 times per hour! That is every 2 minutes.  This is the best way to feel stressed, overwhelmed while not achieving anything worthwhile.  So, make sure to check your new e-mails either at specific times during the day or when you have completed the task you were working on.  Perhaps you can check your in-box now to see at what time most crucial, valuable e-mails arrive.  This could help you identify suitable times for checking your e-mails.  And you can also let people know when you are likely to respond to your e-mails.
  5. Decide and do or organise.  Don’t use your inbox as your task manager.   Your inbox view should only contain new messages that you will deal with during the day.  All other messages should be filed (or tagged) and all actions relating to these should have been completed or organised (through the calendar or through electronic tasks).
  6. Set up a communication system so that you limit the number of messages you send in cc: (copy).  Supervisors don’t need to be informed of every single detail of a task (and none of them can keep up with all the e-mails they receive).  Rather, they need to have a higher-level view of your activities.  You can better keep them informed by sending them an e-mail summarizing your daily/weekly activities or by providing the status of a particular project (either in a conversation or with an e-mail addressed to them).  You can also agree on criteria for when to keep them informed and when not.  When you do copy someone in your e-mail, explain why in the e-mail.  It will force you to think twice about cc:ing someone, plus your communication will become more effective.
  7. Delete 50% of your e-mails by keeping only your answers. Your replies contain your added value.  It should not be necessary to keep the e-mails you have received, if you keep the replies you have sent.  And by the way, do not make a distinction between received and sent in your filing.  It is better to group e-mails per activity and task.
  8. Sort your e-mails in three main categories: your production or work folders (active files resulting directly from your work), your library (semi-active files that help you produce), your archives (passive files of past activities).  For instance, I have folders in my Production referring to the delivery of specific training sessions or to the writing of blog articles.  In my Library, I keep newsletters relating to my expertise, to training techniques, to tips for writing blog articles.  In my Archives, I have e-mails relating to past projects.
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