Eight Rules for Taming your Email

Effective email management was not something that we were taught in school, yet it is an essential skill for making the best use of our time and staying on top of our ever-increasing workload.

The great news is, you are the only one in control of your Inbox – you have all the power. All it takes is just a few rules and a teeny bit of self-discipline.

Here are 9 simple rules for whipping your Inbox into shape.

  1. Review company policy – You will need to understand your company policy on email management and archiving important company information to ensure that management of your Inbox meets company guidelines.
  2. Unsubscribe from non-essential newsletters – Take 60 seconds to unsubscribe from e-newsletters that add no value, especially the ones that you automatically delete as soon as they come in anyway. Of course, this does not include CCiNZ – click here to see our latest one.
  3. Using Mail Folders effectively – Avoid using mail folders purely as dumping grounds or storage facilities. Create folders that match the various aspects of your work, then quickly scan new emails and file them accordingly. Allocate time in your diary to action the emails in each folder regularly, focusing your mind in one direction instead of continuously flitting from one subject to the next. 
  4. Archive information to company files – Save important emails to relevant subject folders in My Documents or in your company document management system (EDMS). Alternatively, print and file them in hard copy folders – whatever is relevant to your company policy. Simply shifting emails to a mail folder is akin to shifting a pile of paper around on your desk. If it’s important to keep, get it off your desktop and into your company’s archives.
  5. Actioning emails – Treat emails like paper:  read them and action them in one of four ways:  (1) respond (2) bin (3) archive or (4) assign it to a mail folder to address at a specific time. Be ruthless and only store what’s critical. Get rid of it if you (a) don’t need to action it (b) can’t think of a reason you’d need to refer to it again and think carefully about whether you actually need to keep it if you are (c) cc’d or copied in on it.
  6. Diary email time – There are two types of time that you should diary for dealing with emails:  (1) time to organise your new emails (2) time to action emails in your mail folders.
  7. Clear out your Inbox – Now that you have a system established and rules for taming the Email Monkey, take time away from distractions to organise what’s currently in your Inbox. Skim each email that is currently in your Inbox and ruthlessly apply your new system by actioning points 1-5 above.
  8. Train your senders – Now that you’re organised, train those who send you email – with the possible exception of your manager! It sounds hard, but it’s really not. Here are some easy tips for the common offenders:
    • Teach your team and colleagues to become more discerning about what emails they copy you into. Each time someone copies (cc) you on something unnecessarily, politely let them know they do not need to include you on emails about that subject or that type of action.
    • When someone marks something urgent because they have left things too late, action it if you can, but let them know that this caused you difficultly and that you will unlikely be able to drop things again to help in the future.
    • Respectfully ask to be taken off joke email distribution lists. You’ll get more of a kick out of keeping your Inbox clear and staying on top of your To Do list than wasting precious time reading jokes.
    • Coach long email writers to keep things simple, by keeping things simple yourself. Consider how you write each email, deliver the key points only and highlight any action required. If background information is required, attach it. You’ll notice that if you take the minimalist approach, so will they – over time.
    • And then there is the golden rule for any manager – delegate. Delegating the tasks that you can to your team provides them with the opportunity to perform and clears your deck so that you have time to support and manage your team. It’s a win-win!

If you are a Smartphone user or someone who regularly checks emails after hours, then the final tip is for you:

9.  Address emails during work time – Radical as this may seem, taking time out from work is a good thing. It gives you time to rest your mind and regenerate, preparing you to take on the challenges that will come with the following day. Set your phone to update emails during your work hours only, so that you no longer receive the regular beep of new emails that you cannot possibly resist looking at.

This last tip may just be one of the most challenging, but remember, it should not be expected that you will respond to non-urgent emails after hours. If you regularly receive emails for action after hours, then you may have already set that expectation.

Change the status quo now and ease your senders into the new routine by setting an Out of Office message advising them that you have left for the day and provide a number that you can be contacted on for emergencies. That way, you know that you will be called if something truly requires your attention and you can truly relax after hours.

Self-discipline is truly the key and these simple rules provide you with a roadmap for effective email management.

Be ruthless in applying these rules in line with your company policy and tame your email quick smart!

By Angela Shaw, CCiNZ