10 ways to manage your email instead of it managing you

Ahhhh emails. We love to send them. We don’t always like to receive them. Email is a great form of communication and can save you time when used wisely. It can also drive you insane. I hear over and over again from clients how their inbox drives their day because they’re constantly reacting to the latest “ding” announcing the arrival of a new email. They’re fearful of missing something important and allow their inbox to dictate what they will work on today.

If you find yourself in the same boat, here are 10 tips from my book Take Back Your Time: 101 Simple Tips To Shrink Your Work-Week and Conquer the Chaos in Your Life on how you can manage your email instead of it managing you:

1. People need to be told specifically what action to take with your emails or else you may not get the response you’re seeking. I recommend you create an email subject line code and include the definition in your email so people know how best to respond to your email. For example, I use “RR” for response requested, “RO” for read only, “AR” to indicate I need you to take an action before responding and “FYI” as informational only. Include those definitions in a key within your email signature.

2. Schedule a block or two of time during the day to review and answer email, your volume of email will dictate frequency and how long to read email. I schedule a 45-minute session to review email in the morning and an hour session mid-day. Communicate that to your audience in your email signature to set expectations with them. Here is the exact verbiage from my email signature: “Note: I set aside 7:15 a.m. – 8:00 a.m. CT and 1:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. CT every day to read and respond to emails. As time permits I also glance through my emails throughout the day. If you require urgent assistance (please ensure it is urgent) that cannot wait until 7:15 a.m. CT or 1 p.m. CT, please contact me via phone at xxx-xxx-xxxx. Thank you for understanding this move to more efficiency and effectiveness. It helps me accomplish more to serve you better.”

3. Write meaningful subject lines (for example, don’t reply to a random email with a completely unrelated topic) and change the subject line if the email has become a chain of emails and the topic has now shifted.

4. When replying “thank you” or writing a very brief email (one sentence), put the thank you or brief sentence in the subject with EOM (End Of Message) at the end. People will know that is the end of the message and there is no need to open your email. I would suggest adding EOM to your key in your email signature mentioned in tip 1 above.

5. If you’re like me, you love to get sales and other announcements from businesses that can quickly clutter your Inbox (if you work for a corporation, I recommend receiving these emails in your personal Inbox). For those emails, create a folder called “retailers” (or whatever makes sense to you). Then, for all of the senders of this category of emails, create a rule to place emails from the sender in your retailers folder. When you’re ready to shop at a particular retailer, check the retailers folder to see if they have a current sale promotion.

6. Even better, for email boxes you have control over, sign up for a service that suppresses everything but the emails that are most important to you. I really like and use SaneBox.com

7. Think of key people whose emails you would like to have standout from the crowd in your Inbox. Create rules to color code emails that come in from those individuals. For example, blue from your boss and green from key customers. Then you can quickly scan through your emails to find those that are most critical to respond to quickly.

8. If you are having difficultly composing an email, it usually suggests that a higher order of communication such as a telephone call or face-to-face meeting is necessary. Abandon your email and either call the recipient or set up a meeting with him.

9. If you need someone to answer a question right away, don’t send an email hoping she’ll see it instantly and promptly respond to you. Just call her.

10. Move emails directly from your Inbox to your calendar and schedule a block of time to complete the request in the email. This saves you time as you won’t need to add it to a task list and you’ll remember at an appropriate time in the future to complete the request.

What is your favorite way to manage your email?
A guest blog by Shari McGuire, founder of ShrinkYourWorkWeek.com and author of Take Back Your Time: 101 Simple Tips To Shrink Your Work-Week and Conquer the Chaos in Your Life.

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