Saturday, 13 October 2018

5 Tips for Effective Email Management

One of the most frequent complaints I hear from clients and others is about the amount of email they receive at work.  Email can come at any time and the expectation in our 24/7 connected world is that sending an email will result in an instantaneous reply. It’s far easier, cheaper and quicker to send an email and the same message can be copied to dozens of recipients with no additional effort on the part of the sender.  

Love it or hate it, email is part of our lives.  The problem is that many aren't taught how to handle it in the same way we’re taught to (say) organise our workspace, de-clutter a home or prioritise tasks.  Many tend to check email on getting into the office and to start responding immediately to each email one after the other.

I’m a person with friends and family, two companies I run, a business association of which I’m Chairman and I purchase goods regularly online.  As a result, I get emails from different sources for different reasons. I use Apple Mail as my email client as it allows me to see my personal, business and other email accounts at the same time.

Over the years, I’ve read a number of tips and tried different methods, so here’s what I’ve found useful:

1.    Separate “personal” and “corporate” email:
Some people who have all email sent to their business email address, with the result that they’re “drowning” in emails.  I have a personal email address which I give to a select few and use business email addresses for the two businesses I run.  I also have another email address for the business association mentioned above.  It doesn’t reduce the number of mails I receive, but it puts me in control by allowing me to decide which area of my life I want to prioritise.  Think of it like sorting the letters received in your home – you probably open the ones that look “interesting” first.

2.    Have an inbox folder for “The Boss”:
If you work for someone, they decide on your final performance rating and bonus.  Create an inbox titled “The Boss” and set up a rule in your email client that all email received from your manager should go directly there.  When you open your email client, you’ll see what’s come if from the boss and can decide immediately what to do with it.  An extra useful tip is to include your manager’s manager as well. You can then see at a glance any messages from “the boss’ boss” and warn yours of what’s there.  They’ll love you for “having their back”.

3.    Use the “4-Folder System”:
One tip I read suggested having 3 folders:
  • “Action” for messages that must be actioned NOW
  • “Read later” for those that you could read when you have quiet time (e.g. emails with complex instructions, updates on activities, etc)
  • “Maybe” for emails that you might read but don't think are vital.
I added “KIV” (Keep In View) for emails that I send out but want to keep track of (say because I need a response).  When I look at my inbox, I first sort emails into “Action”, “Read later”, “Maybe”.  The “Action items” then get handled first, followed by the rest.  The great thing is that this makes you prioritise your emails and also empties your inbox immediately.  The downside?  It needs discipline to make it work.

4.    Create and use inboxes for specific projects:
Some suggest we use inboxes for specific projects.  As long as senders use the project name in the “Subject” field of their email (e.g. “Project Maximus”, “Project Aurora – Update”) you can instruct your email client to send email containing these words in the subject field direct to their designated inbox.

5.    Have an email address specifically for online purchases:
I’ve already mentioned this above as when vendors ask for your email address (usually so they can confirm your purchase and when it was sent).  The downside is that they may also send unwanted newsletters (unsubscribe – tip #6 above) or that someone my procure their customer database and send unsolicited email.  I can also close off this address any time I want and establish a new one.

The above describes setting up and personal organisation mostly, but I’ll follow up with five more tips on actually managing what has just been done. 

I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My websiteprovides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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