Most professionals receive dozens of emails all day every day, legitimate emails from PR reps touting their companies’ latest achievements, authors offering free excerpts of their latest books, questions from co-workers, instructions from supervisors and so on arrive throughout each day. Add to that any personal emails that come in, and it starts to become overwhelming.
Debi Bush courteously came up with her own top 10 ways to downsize your email, and I’ve listed them below with my own thoughts thrown in.
The number one recommendation that Bush makes – and that should go without saying in this day and age – is to get a good spam filter. There’s no greater time suck than sitting at your desk deleting spam emails that seem to arrive by the dozen every hour of the day.
Her second recommendation is one that I’ve actually followed: unsubscribe from undesirable mailing lists and opt-out of newsletters and other mailings you’re receiving. If you read them and find them valuable, then by all means, keep them coming. But if you don’t read them or don’t get any value from them, opt out. Another alternative is to reduce the frequency. Some publications allow you to choose whether you receive them on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Choose the frequency that works best for you. I recommend monthly.
If you’re receiving emails from friends and family at work, ask them to send frivolous emails like jokes and chain letters to your personal email address. Another option is to set up your email so that messages coming from certain email addresses are automatically forwarded to your personal email account.
Bush’s next suggestion is don’t publish your email address on websites. I see this all the time. People’s email addresses are published on their companies’ websites. According to Bush, spammers steal them.
I must agree that it’s not necessary for you to reply to every email that you receive. Some messages simply don’t require a response. Read them, archive them and move on.
Keep your email messages short and to the point. Say as much as you can with the fewest words possible. If what you have to say is only one sentence long, put it in the subject line and call it a day.
Speaking of subject lines, Bush recommends something that I do quite often. Use the subject line to let people know what an email is about or how they’re expected to reply. For example, if an email is just keeping someone updated on what’s going on, FYI in the subject line lets them know that. If you need something done right away, URGENT or ASAP in the subject line makes that apparent. Stating whatever you need to have done in the subject line helps you confusion and ensures that what you need to have done actually gets done.
Setting aside time to answer your email is good way to keep from spending too much time on it. If you always check your email right after your morning break, right after lunch and right after your afternoon break, then you ensure that nothing important slips by without wasting valuable time constantly reading and replying to emails.
Here’s where Bush and I disagree. She says you should reply to emails as soon as you read them. Depending on the nature of the email, that’s not always possible. Also, some emails are more important than others. I recommend prioritizing emails. Once you’ve put them in order from the most to the least important or urgent, then you’re ready to start replying to them. So what if you read an email more than once. Sometimes reading an email twice is a good thing because you could end up catching something that you missed the first time around when you really only scanned it for salient pieces of information.
Finally, Bush suggests setting aside time in the morning and evening to “process” your inbox. It would be nice to have a completely empty inbox, but that’s not always possible. If it is, taking time to archive emails that have been answered and delete any that don’t need to be saved could help get you to that point.
You don’t have to drown in a sea of emails. Thanks to Debi Bush, you now realize that there are ways that you can stay afloat and still get things done.