Tuesday, 6 November 2007

e-mail Insanity!!

It's been a longtime between posts, I've got heaps of ideas for articles and not enough time to get them on here. So to get me started here is a very brief and simple point.

Over the last couple of months I've been observing a number of people from graduates through to Senior executives on $300k a year using their e-mail. Very few, if any (besides the people I coach) really have a clear take on the mail application they use and how to get the most from it.

Even worse than not knowing how to use the e-mail as a tool is allowing the application to drive your life. I've even seen one senior executive submit themselves to the good old "You've Got Mail" pop-up. Now I know I receive 60-100 e-mails a day and cannot imagine how disruptive a pop-up such as this could be.

With that example in mind, here are a few simple tips that you could consider to help you with your mail:

1. Turn the Pop-up OFF!! - It may have been fun for Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, it definitely isn't fun when you're trying to focus. (Take the above example 100 e-mails / 8 hours = 12.5 interruptions an hour, or an average of an interruption every 4.8 Minutes - INSANE)

2. Use Mail Rules - this is a great way to unclutter your inbox. I in-fact use mail rules for a number of things - from archiving mail newsletters, allocating tasks to a un-categorised action list through to deleting mails. Learn how your mail application does this. (In-fact - if you've subscribed to something and haven't read the last five e-mails, I'd suggest you could un-subscribe)

3. 4 D's - This is a GTD tip from David Allen at davidco.com. Basically when processing e-mail remember there are only 4 things you can do: Do, Delete, Defer or Delegate, amazingly every single one of these D's should result in the e-mail exiting the inbox.

4. Work to get your e-mail above the fold - that is, actively work to get all of your e-mail in the inbox onto one screen and keep it there. Even better go for "InBox Zero" as told by Merlin Mann of 43 Folders in a recent google Tech Talk.

5. Develop an e-mail checking habit - That is, try and discipline yourself to check your e-mail during your working day as minimally as possible. I normally do this morning, mid day and finally at the end of the day. Trust me - if the building is burning down, the printer jammed or any other urgent matter - They're not going to e-mail you. (In fact people e-mailing an urgent matter in reality are not treating the issue at hand seriously, skulking or being political)

6. Use Filters - Some of you are now (especially those workers with 1000 plus e-mails in their inbox) are thinking I'm full of it, and how could they possibly get above the fold. Learn how to use the filters on your mail application. You can filter by date, subject, sender, attachments, comments, if you're in the too field, share the to field,
the cc field, the list goes on and on. Learn your app, use the filters and apply the 4 D's to sort your mail out.

There are dozens more tips and tricks floating around from coloring e-mails through to flagging, tagging and who knows what else. But I'm not going to keep going, this was/is meant to be a short post. You can go learn these yourself.

As a parting comment though, seriously, mail is one of the main applications you use on a daily basis, shouldn't you know how to use it? The benefits of doing this as a busy knowledge worker are phenomenal, even if it is the simple benefit of feeling in control, or even a small sense of achievement.



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