By Michelle Wicmandy, Collective Changes
Email can be a valuable communication tool. But, receiving more than 200 messages daily can easily consume the entire day. Even worse, when poorly managed, email can stop productivity.
In fact, a report by McKinsey & Company found that the average interaction worker spends an estimated 28 percent of the workweek managing e-mail and nearly 20 percent looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks.
The following are actionable tips to control email so Internet professionals can enjoy this powerful tool rather than be burdened by it.
Eliminating distractions increases productivity
Reading each incoming email can break one's focus and hinder productivity. Turning off distracting pop-ups and alarms will improve concentration and task completion.
Gail Romero, CEO and co-founder of Collective Changes, recommends choosing specific times during the day to view and sort email into groups such as projects, vendors, news, delegate, staff, partners and others. Then, rank these categories. For example, flagged messages take priority followed by staff, partners and projects. Meanwhile, vendors and industry news get read on Fridays. Finally, delegate messages whenever possible.
Routing email saves hours
Use the filters and rules in Microsoft Office and Gmail to direct incoming email to the right folder such as enewsletters, vendors, associations, partners, each staff member and others. Romero said, "When I'm ready to read industry news, I open that file and focus on that topic. I also use a folder for SPAM set with an automatic purge to control unwanted mail when the unsubscribe feature does not work." Another tip: Create a reply-by-[date] folder for pending messages requiring input from others. "When that day arrives," she said, "I send reminders about outstanding materials." Compartmentalizing work helps organize a busy inbox, track employee timeliness and save time.
Tracking messages ensures completion
Employ a tracking system to record email messages. Debbie Milks, COO and vice president of operations for Brookwoods Group, suggests companies invest in software tools that allow managers to view employee email, communication and contact activity, especially around sales, and business development. This lets team members access background information on any situation when crisis strikes.
Scanning the inbox regularly helps ensure adequate follow-through. "I review sent messages twice per day to search for unsent messages caused by interruptions, overlooked emails and messages requiring more action. In those situations, I use post-it notes to jog my memory," said Milks.
Reducing internal email cuts clutter
Educate team members about sending email to the right recipients. For example, copy the person on the message if she received a meeting invitation or the message requires her attention. Otherwise, postpone the email until you need further input or can make a final announcement.
Clear subject lines help organize messages
The subject line should clearly and concisely summarize the message body and can be augmented as the message gets sent back and forth. Also, inserting codes in the subject line helps organize messages by importance and time commitment. For example:
411: The message provides information.
911 or !: The message requires attention.
Y/N: The message needs a Yes or No response. Answering these fast-response emails first improves efficiency.
SLO: Subject Line Only for messages such as, "SLO: Meeting postponed 30 minutes."
NRN: No Reply Necessary discourages staff from sending messages that adds no value. For example, sending a "thank you" or "great job" consumes valuable time throughout a year.
AR by [date]: Action Requested by a specific date helps increase the likelihood that the reader will reply on time.
One topic per email improves efficiency
Limit messages to only one topic per email to promote clarity, aid filing and improve productivity.
Phrases and templates expedite routine messages
To save time, make a list of common phrases and design useful templates. Recycle these phrases in messages and create templates for frequently requested information such as company directions and product information rather than sending large attachments that SPAM filters may block.
Use email for good news and general announcements
As a general rule, email is effective for sharing good news, sending praise and making general announcements. According to Milks, "Holding a conversation is still the best way to handle a difficult situation. Hiding behind email can worsen the situation as meaning can be misinterpreted and taken out of context."
Despite today's advanced email programs, managing email can be daunting. As the entrepreneur receives more email, he or she will naturally spend more time managing those messages. The bottom line: email can be intrusive and consume an entire day if allowed. But, following these quick tips may help small business owner manage his email inbox efficiently.
Michelle Wicmandy is the CMO for Collective Changes and a marketing lecturer for the University of Houston Downtown.