How I Became Efficient With Emails
Since the invention of email, I have struggled to learn how to manage email efficiently. I have hated how they accumulate. And then I have felt guilty that I haven’t answered them yet. Consequently on the weekend, or at night, or really early in the morning, I have to take care of them. Until now.
If you have the same problem, let me share with you how to manage email now. Believe it or not, it’s that simple.
Step One: Use your smartphone.
You really should invest in a phone that you can manage your emails from. Make sure your phone receives emails immediately (ie: the emails are pushed to it). And make sure you can send emails from your phone. I use an iPhone.
Step Two: Manage email from your phone only.
Some may disagree, but if you are like me and don’t actually have a lot of desk time (where you do your work), this works great! Instead of waiting until I sit down at my desk and have an unknown number of emails waiting for me, I process them throughout the day from my phone. Answering emails has become a break for me from my daily tasks. As a doctor, every hour I need a break for at least a few minutes after treating patients. And as the owner of the clinic, when I am conducting meetings and interviewing people, I also need a break from thinking. So answering emails has become a break for me. The only danger is becoming so attached to your phone that you cannot listen to people or be present. You have to stay disciplined in that area. “People Before Emails” should be a core value to adopt. Another advantage to answering emails from my phone only is…
Step Three: Leave the “Sent from my iPhone” signature.
My exception to this rule is for very important emails only. For those, I do send them from my laptop with my full signature (if I want to introduce myself to someone or write something more formal). But 99% of the time, this is not necessary. Leaving the iPhone signature which literally says “Sent from my iphone” allows me to write shorter responses. And even though I always proofread my emails for spelling errors before I send them, I feel less pressure to be as polished with the structure and syntax of the email. After all, it is being sent from my phone.
Step Four: If you read it, send a response.
Now, this is what revolutionized my email life. The rule I follow is this: If I open the email to read it, then I must respond to it—unless it does not require a response. In other words, I do not allow myself to go on to other emails until I respond to this one. I used to scan through all my emails with the intention of responding to them later. Some people go through their emails and put them a few in a special folders to respond to later. This does not work for me. The “special folder” will honestly add stress to me. Plus, I believe it doubles the work and the thinking. Later, I have to reread and rethink about the emails.
Further, I changed my settings to minimize the information I see on the screen when I am looking at the email list. I see the sender and the subject line only. (I chose the option on the iPhone in which I don’t see the first three lines of the content.) I can usually gauge if I have time for a response just from that information alone. So I only open the ones I think I have time to answer immediately. Of course I am curious to see the content of the ones I don’t open. So now, I am looking forward to opening these instead of dreading to answer the ones that are waiting for me for later.
Two Other Quick Tips on How to Manage Your Email Life
Of course there are other tricks that may be helpful. At one point, I had someone open all my emails and screen them for me. That was when I had full time assistant; now I don’t. But if this is the case for you, it could be a real time-saver to have your assistant help you process your emails for you as much as possible. Quite honestly, unless you are just crazy-busy, I think managing your own email keeps you connected to your world. But one could argue both ways on this point.
Another tip I can pass along is this: Make it a personal policy not to address any emotionally charged issues by email. I learned that lesson the hard way. That must be done in person. If someone sends me an email stating that they trying to clarify or rectify an issue, I respond with something like, “This sounds like something we should definitely discuss. I would prefer to do that in person if that’s okay. Can we please set up a time to meet in the next few days?” If you value relationships like I do, then this discipline is a must.
I used to dread looking and managing my emails. Now, I can honestly say I look forward to working on them. If you can find a way to get to that point, emails will actually help move things forward for you and your team as it does for me. Otherwise, emails can quickly become a source of stress and a detractor from progress and productivity. Hopefully these tips will propel you toward email freedom!
Question: What are some other tips you would offer to help manage email? (I will be the first to respond. I look forward to reading your response as well in the comments section below.)
For Further Reading: