Do you dread opening your e-mail each morning? Trying to keep up with the demands of your inbox can be a challenge, but it shouldn’t be overwhelming. Effectively managing the time you spend on e-mail isn’t about what’s best for everyone, it’s about finding what works for you.
Here are some tips you can try, or modify to fit your demands and preferences.
- Set aside time. Identify two to three chunks of 10-20 minutes a day when you can focus on checking and responding to e-mails, preferably not first thing in the morning, which can derail productivity. This doesn’t mean it’s the only time you can look at e-mail during the day, just that you have allotted time for dealing with it. (Hint: Build it into your daily routine!)
- Clean out daily. Whether it’s during a break, or the end of the day, an uncluttered inbox will make you feel better, so make it a goal to get rid of stuff you don’t need – it’s liberating. (Hint: Contact your agency or department’s records officer to learn which e-mail messages you can delete right away and which ones need to be filed and kept for a certain period of time.)
- Deal with it once. We are all guilty of scanning e-mails and letting them sit in our inbox for far too long. Break yourself of this habit. Once you open an e-mail, deal with it. If you can read and respond in less than two minutes, just get it over with. (Hint: Try marking it as unread if you can’t deal with it now, or, if your system allows, use a reminder or flag.)
- File. File. File. E-mail shouldn’t linger in your inbox. Set up a filing system that works for you and use it. Don’t make the mistake of creating too many folders – it’ll just get confusing. (Hint: Automate filing when possible.)
- Simplify and code. Use the flagging, labeling and/or color-coding features of your e-mail. Yellow, for example, can mean whatever you’d like it to mean, just keep it consistent.
- Use the search function. Most e-mail systems have a search function that allows you to search e-mail in various ways. Understand how your search function works so you can easily search in file folders to retrieve the messages you are seeking.
- Don’t miss important dates. What about an e-mail that needs to be added to your calendar or task list? Not sure if it’s important enough to make your calendar? If there’s a chance it might be, don’t think twice, just add the appointment or task, you can always delete it, or ignore it later. (Hint: Many e-mail systems have calendars, tasks and reminders – use them to help you)
- Take a deep breath, and hit “unsubscribe.” Unsubscribe yourself from anything that’s no longer relevant to you. Click unsubscribe and you’ll eliminate the unwanted mail, time it takes to delete it and the guilt that comes with knowing you’ll never keep up with it anyways.
- Is it necessary? Before you send that e-mail or respond (again) on the same issue, ask yourself, would a phone call or visit be quicker? Or, can you table the issue and bring it up the next time you have a face-to-face meeting? It’s so easy to just shoot off e-mails, so think before you hit send – no one likes an overfilled inbox.
- Remember… Your e-mail system is a communication system but not a recordkeeping system. Transfer messages to your agency or department’s recordkeeping system in accordance with your agency or department’s records program. (Hint: Your record’s officer oversees your agency or department’s records program and is a great resource for learning how to manage e-mail in accordance with statewide policies and State and Federal laws and regulations).
This article was adapted from e-mail tips written by J.M. Peterson on the Good Company Blog and is brought to you by the Department of Human Resources/Division of Workforce Development & Wellness and the Vermont State Archives & Records Administration (VSARA). For additional information and resources please contact your records officer or VSARA.