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Feeling overwhelmed by the information coming through your email inbox? You’re not alone. The average office worker receives 121 emails per day. U.S. workers now spend an average of 3.2 hours per day checking work emails and more than 90 minutes per day recovering from email interruptions. Americans are so concerned about not losing touch that 30% actually check their inbox while still in bed in the morning.
Clearly, what was designed to be a productivity enhancer is now a source of stress and can be a huge impediment to getting important work done.
If only the solution were as simple as disregarding email, but sadly, that isn’t even a possible last resort. The keys to overcoming the informational deluge and being able to return to sound time management are varied. There is no one-size-fits-all approach and for any individual, multiple approaches must be taken. That’s why we asked the executives and managers we know and trust to offer their best tips for email and information management. Here are their top five suggestions:
Inbox management tip #1: Delegate responsibility
If you’re an executive or manager, you can delegate emails to be read, followed up on, or responded to. You’ll need to consider a variety of factors such as team member expertise and authority, involvement in other projects, project due dates, and task priorities. Use this information to map out your team’s informational workload. Then consider everything that must be read and understood, as well as if there is someone specific who must do it.
Inbox management tip #2: Set up folders prioritized by urgency
Reading and responding every time an email comes in is inefficient. Set up categories of emails and make folders for each one. You may want a folder for group emails that others can respond to, an urgent folder, a folder for your assistant, a can-wait folder, and an unimportant folder that you may want to re-scan when you have the time. Your system can get more sophisticated over time, using your email client’s grouping and sorting capabilities.
Inbox management tip #3: Use project management software
Packages like Asana and Basecamp organize project-based communications so that you don’t have to use inefficient email to manage them. Project management software enables you to stay in the loop without feeling like you have to read, respond, or take action when the ball is really in someone else’s court. Project management software reduces the sheer volume of communications across your organization. It also enables projects to move into different stages, so when you’re no longer involved, you don’t continue to receive unnecessary communications.
Inbox management tip #4: Designate certain times for email reading and responses
It’s not the volume of communications that makes email such a burden; it’s the distraction of receiving them several times an hour (with annoying notifications) that prevents you from getting and staying focused on your primary responsibilities.
Instead of feeling obligated to respond when emails come in, schedule blocks of time and communicate this with everyone who might otherwise expect a more immediate response. Consider setting your availability to “busy” when you are not in email mode. You may want to construct an automated response like this: "Due to high workload, I am currently checking and responding to email three times daily at (times). If you need immediate assistance, contact me via phone at (number).”
Inbox tip 35: Start fewer email communications
You may not always need a written record of a conversation. When you don’t, consider talking in person or on the phone. Or designate an assistant to verbally communicate key messages to various personnel. These strategies don’t encourage a continuous email loop, instead suggesting to the recipient that communication is meant to result in a quick action or resolution.
These tips can not only help you to restore personal productivity and sanity to your workday but can facilitate positive changes throughout your workplace. To that end, feel free to share this article with everyone in your office who might want to reduce their own email information flood.
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