New academic year, new students, new emails…. and more, and more, and even more emails. We all struggle with ever growing inboxes of unanswered emails. Below is some advice that you may find helpful in order to manage your Email and help create a better work : life balance. Further information can also be found at:
Here are five top tips to help us reduce inbox traffic and a few recommendations (from Tim Ferriss) that can help eliminate a compulsive inboxing during the evenings and weekends. Treat all of them as short experiments and customize as you see fit.
1. Restrict Email send times.
Wherever possible try not to send e-mails between 7pm and 7am on workdays and no e-mails during weekends and public holidays – you can write them and sent later for step by step instructions for Outlook, for iOS.
2. Make your emails short and to the point.
Structure e-mails well for easier sorting and reading and be clear in the subject lines (for info/action etc; deadlines).
3. Do not “reply all” if not needed.
Think twice (or 3 times!) about selecting “reply all” when replying to an email.
4. Use mailing lists to get straight to the intended end recipient.
Do not “cascade” emails down the management hierarchy, so that every section lead has to waste time forwarding (and with the chance that some emails will not get through, for example if someone is on leave).
5. If someone’s office is near yours, just speak to them instead!
Worth trying from Tim Ferriss
6. “Batch” email at set times.
- Have an email-checking schedule and do not deviate. There is an inevitable task-switching cost otherwise — office workers spend 28% of their time switching between tasks due to interruption, and 40% of the time, an interrupted task is not resumed within 24 hours. The “urgent” email-to-call conversion is usually less than 10%.
- This gives you breathing room to focus on predefined to-do’s instead of responding to manufactured emergencies and ending the day with nothing to show for it.
- Alternative approaches include appending your signature with your email schedule, having only email from certain contacts forwarded to your mobile. Ensure that your first batch is around 10 or 11 a.m. and never first thing in the morning, as you want a meaningful volume (1/4-1/3rd of the daily total), and you should accomplish at least one critical to-do before going into reactive mode.
- Send and read email at different times.
- Go offline and respond to all email from a local program such as Outlook or Mail to avoid having the outgoing flow interrupted by immediate responses.
- Ever noticed how effective it is to respond to your email while on an airplane? Manufacture that environment by going offline to batch send.
- Don’t scan email if you can’t immediately fix problems encountered.
One simple example: don’t scan the inbox on Friday evening or over the weekend if you might encounter work problems that can’t be addressed until Monday. This is the perfect way to ruin a weekend with preoccupation. Remember that just as income has no value without time, time has no value without attention.
9. Don’t BIF people during off-hours.
“BIF” stands for “before I forget” and refers to emails sent on evenings or weekends out of fear of forgetting a to-do or follow-up. This sets a mutual expectation of 24/7 work hours and causes a plethora of problem.
10. Don’t use the inbox for reminders or as a to-do list.
Don’t mark items as “unread,” star them, or otherwise leave them in the inbox as a constant reminder of required actions. This just creates visual distraction while leading you to evaluate the same items over and over. Put them into a calendar (or Moleskine or other capturing system) for follow-up and archive the email, even if that calendar item is just “Respond to 2/10 email from Suzie”.
11. Set rules for email-to-phone escalation.
A simple policy that can cut email volume by almost 40%: once a decision generates more than four emails total in a thread, someone needs to pick up the phone to resolve the issue.
12. Before writing an email, ask yourself: “what problem am I trying to solve?” or “what is my ideal outcome?”
Unclear purpose, usually a symptom of striving to be busy instead of productive, just requires later clarification from all parties and multiplies back-and-forth volume. Be clear in desired results or don’t hit that Send button.
13. Learn to make suggestions instead of asking questions.
Stop asking for suggestions or solutions and start proposing them. Begin with the small things. Rather than asking when someone would like to meet next week, propose your ideal times and second choices. If someone asks, “Where should we eat?”, “What movie should we watch?”, “What should we do tonight?”, or anything similar, do not reflect it back with “Well, what/when/where do you want to…?” Offer a solution. Stop the back and forth and make a decision. Practice this in both personal and professional environments. Here are a few lines that help:
“Can I make a suggestion?”
“I’d like to propose…”
“I suggest that… what do you think?”
“Let’s try… and then try something else if that doesn’t work.”
Remember: in email, the small things are the big things. If you can cut an exchange from six to three email messages, that’s a 50% reduction in your inbox volume over time. This can make the difference between working all the time and leaving the office (both physically and mentally) at 5 p.m.
If you need to send emails out-of-hours to fit round other commitments, please consider using the “delay send” option in Outlook. To do this pick the “options” tab when you have a new message window open and then choose “delay delivery”. You can then choose the day and time this message is sent, thereby colleagues can receive your message during working hours.
Using Outlook? You can delay the delivery of an individual email message or you can use rules to delay the delivery of all messages by having them held in the Outbox for a specified time after you click Send. For iOS users.
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