Managing Email Overload
And we thought fax machines were going to rule the world…
Managing incoming emails needs a magic wand. The following is a proven method for eliminating a vast majority of the incoming emails. Many deal with an understanding of Outlook email. Others may require an implementation of employee rules or simple education around what to send to others and what to communicate through other means.
This approach for managing emails has proven to take an inbox from several hundred per day, down to a manageable 40-60 emails. Still many to handle, but if you are in corporate America, you know how easily those emails can stack up, and just getting the bulk out of the way can be a sigh of relief.
For an in-depth lesson in proper email etiquette, see the tutorial or the e-book for a complete initiation into a new office policy on email etiquette.
The four major areas for getting email under control:
Education of Co-workers
Email Archiving Compliance
Thanks to Paul K. for test-driving this approach and sharing it with the world.
as well as advise you what is built-in or what
may need upgrading such as an Outlook Add In.
The following are adapted for email systems using OUTLOOK.
- Use a Junk Email filter to throw obvious trash out.
- Use “sort & store” filters (In OUTLOOK, this will be in RULES) to snag regular/recurring incoming that you want to keep for later. Potential items may be corporate news updates, monthly updates from suppliers, emagazines, etc. Place those in an appropriate Archive folder and leave them as Unread so you can go through them later if you care to.
- Create an “Action Items” folder and use “Action” keyword in subject line to snag stuff to send to your “Actions Items” folder. Present a screen message and play a sound that an important piece of email just arrived.
- Snag any email from your boss, his boss, or the boss above that (3 layers upward) or from critical clients into your Action Items folder, and play a special sound and present a screen message. Always stop what you are doing to read these when they arrive.
- Work with your local propeller-head in IT to see how you can best set your SPAM filter and how to use those that have historically gotten through to prevent others.
- Review your SPAM filter periodically.
- Set up your voicemail to send a WAV file of the voicemail message to your email account. (Many systems can do this). This is handy for archiving voicemails in one spot with your emails. Although this lay add to your email load, it does centralize your voicemail with your email. Your voicemail can also send a TXT message to your cell phone for anything marked URGENT.
- When you do not need a paper trail of an issue, instead of creating an email consider using a desktop IM (Instant Messaging) to talk to co-workers. It is a useful way to see if they are at their computers and therefore whether a phone call would be useful.
- Use your administrative help if you have any. She or he can be set up to gain access to your email and filter out at least some of it for you. If there are emails from certain people that you know she can handle, set an OUTLOOK RULE to forward this email on to her email address.
Education of Others
- Train employees and other co-workers to use the word “action” in the subject line if they need some action from you. Flog them and hang them in the hallway if they abuse the process.
- Notify and remind people that you do not reply to email in real time. If they need something from you in real time they need to call or come to your office.
- Tell employees to expect email turn-around time to be about two weeks. Even if it is better than that (likely), it sends the message to them to not be so reliable on email.
- Determine what you must be cc’d on. Err on the side of NOT being copied. Although this feels like you may be out of the loop, it trains your staff or co-workers in how to best involve you (only when necessary) and helps your direct reports become more independent. All this is based on the philosophy that a good leader has taught his group how to self-manage, and uses the leader for the tough stuff and strategic thinking, not day-to-day trivia. If you do not have faith in this approach, then surrender to getting more emails.
- Be sure to clear the Actions Items folder before going home or at some other scheduledtime.
- Do not respond to the constant stream of email in real time, other than those with the alerts you have set-up.
- Plan for email reading by scheduling it in your calendar.
- Do not let email rule you. Live in scheduled time, knowing that your initial schedule for the day will probably be unraveled soon, but that is the nature of the job. Resistance is futile.
Email Archiving Compliance
- Learn to archive older emails, or entire folders.
- Know what your company policy is on backing up email.