Managing e-mail now accounts for about half of the average employee's workday. It's an overused tool; and because of its sheer volume, can lead to miscommunication, conflict and more time taken out of the workday.
"Multi-tasking” with e-mail may make you feel busy, but it doesn't drive results. You can’t check and reply to e-mails constantly while trying to focus on your important tasks for the day.
Yes, e-mail helps us, but the people getting the most done are not checking e-mail first thing in the morning or all through the day. The most productive people are the ones who start their days by working on their most important task.
When task one is done, they start on task two. Only then do they get to their e-mail.
You’ve probably heard this dozens of times. So why are you still choosing to be unproductive by constantly checking e-mail?
Stop the Insanity
Your company likely needs to reply to customer inquiries fast in order to avoid losing a deal or hurting your brand. For this, designate employees who are responsible for checking e-mail frequently. Surely not everyone in your company has to be glued to their inbox. For you and your employees not on fast response duty, try these tips for handling high-volume e-mail.
- Limit the use of cc: and reply all. Be selective and think before you send, ‘Do each of these people really need to read this?’
- Don't use e-mails to bounce ideas off people and discuss things. Push people to make lists of things they want to discuss, share, question, etc. that they should then bring up in one-on-one or team meetings.
- When sending anyone an e-mail that requires action, add to the subject line or first sentence the date/time for when a reply is needed so those receiving the e-mail know how to prioritize.
- Indicate if the e-mail requires Same Day reading by marking it as High Priority.
- Put CLEAR instructions at the top of all e-mails as to what you want the readers to each do with it.
- If you’re a business owner or top executive and don’t have an assistant, then get one. A good friend of mine once said, “If you don’t have an assistant, you are one.” Get an assistant to manage your e-mail for you.
- Your e-mail inbox should be empty at the end of each day: ALL e-mails anyone gets should be Read once, and then either acted on immediately if urgent, delegated to the proper person, or dragged to one of these 3 folders: End of Day, End of Week, or Casual Reading (I delete these if older than 2 months).
My recommendation: Do Not check your e-mails before 3 pm unless you are quickly scanning for an expected reply. You have more important things to do. I mentored a CEO who only checks his e-mails on Friday. And he’s still very actively involved in his fast-growing company.
In his best selling book, The Four Hour Workweek, Tim Ferris popularized the use of auto replies, which you can set up to tell people when to expect you to read and reply to their e-mails.
Bottom line: Find the right environment for you to focus and your productivity will improve – and so will the quality of your work. Try turning off your cell phone, shutting e-mail and just focusing on projects for a little bit each day. You’ll be amazed at how much you get done.
Cameron Herold is the founder of BackPocket COO, where he coaches CEOs and entrepreneurs, and the former COO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? He is a speaker resource for the Entrepreneurs Organization http://www.eonetwork.org and Young Presidents’ Organization http://www.ypo.org, global networks of more than 24,000 business leaders in over 100 countries, and has spoken to entrepreneurs in 17 countries and in groups as large as 2,000 people. His blog can be found at http://www.BackPocketCOO.com/blog.