CAREER ADVANCEMENT / AUG. 01, 2014
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5 Tips for Regaining Control Over Your Email

I went on holiday earlier this year and in an attempt to completely recharge from the daily endeavours of work, I pledged to disconnect completely.  No laptop, no smartphone, no Internet.  All in all, it was fantastic, but alas, when I returned home, the deluge awaiting me in my inbox was considerable.

There were over 2,000 emails queued up, and over 10,000 articles in my Feedly account, all from just one week.

I’m sure such email excesses are far from uncommon, and the sheer hassle of wading through this deluge when you get home is probably one of the main reasons why so many choose to stay plugged in during their holidays.  The average person is said to receive over 100 emails per day, so that can easily build up into something unmanageable after a week out of the office.

The thing is, holidays are important.  It’s crucial for our wellbeing, not to mention our productivity that we get a break to allow both our mind and body to recharge.

What can you do to make things better?  Below are five tips that I’ve found really effective in managing your email more productively.

1. Set some rules

Email usage at work is generally pretty free form, in that people do it in whatever way feels right and normal.  The Email Charter however provides some solid rules for how to use email wisely.  At the heart of the charter is the underlying principle that you always respect your recipients’ time!

2. Apply some discipline

Email is one of those addictive aspects of our modern, connected world that can be hard to ignore.  We’re generally notified whenever a message pops into our inbox, thus distracting us from whatever we’re doing to lure us towards reading it.  It’s no surprise that McKinsey estimate that we spend over 25% of our work time doing emails in one way, shape or form.  To reclaim your time, try limiting email usage to 15 minutes every 2 hours, and shut down your email program to avoid temptation.

3. Be careful what you sign up for

A good chunk of the emails we receive are things we have signed up for at one time or another.  Modern junk mail filters are generally pretty good nowadays, but you are still likely to receive a decent amount of ’marketing’ material in your inbox.  Be judicious therefore both in what you sign up for in the first place, and also what you remain signed up for.  Use the unsubscribe option wisely!

4. Establish clear priorities

It should go without saying that some things in your work day are more important than others.  Hopefully you have a firm grasp on what those are.  It’s likely that your email program will come with tools to allow you to flag messages based upon their priority.  Whilst it’s not as ideal as only sending important emails to begin with, it is nevertheless a worthwhile step to make.

5. You shall read this only once

It’s tempting to read the same emails over and over, distractedly going from one to the other.  Instead, try to establish a habit of only opening each email once.  When you open it therefore, you deal with it straight away, whether that’s responding to it, deleting it, archiving it or whatever else you wish to do with it.

Whilst there are many commentators who would love nothing more than to scrap email altogether, its durability suggest that it will be with us for some time to come.  It’s crucial therefore that you learn to manage it well.  Hopefully these tips will help you do just that.

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