(Published in the CAM Green Solutions Newsletter, June 18, 2008.)
Dealing with work related emails (as well as personal ones) can become less frustrating if you make sure to make these tips part of your email reading routine:
Answer email promptly. Avoid allowing your email inbox to get cluttered. In many ways, dealing with email is like dealing with papers and other physical things – you save time by handling it as few times as possible. When reading emails, go ahead and take a moment to respond to the sender while information is fresh in your mind.
Flag things to follow up on. If you can’t respond right away to an email for a particular reason (you need to do further research, you need to talk to someone else, etc), flag the email for follow up. Gmail let’s you “star” emails, which is a method I use for personal emails to highlight things I need to follow up on. When using Outlook, you can flag an email and assign a follow up date to it – a reminder will be placed on your calendar, which makes it less likely you’ll forget to respond to the email.
Delete messages instead of storing them. As mentioned above – keep your emails from becoming clutter. If you’ve responded to an email and the issue is resolved, go ahead and delete the emails. If you think you might need a paper trail, create folders to store the emails in. One thing I love about Gmail is their archive feature. When I am finished with an email, I archive it, clearing up my inbox. But, if I ever need to search for an email, or any content within it (like a phone number, address, or something else), I just use the search box to enter what I am looking for. Folders and archiving are best used for emails you might have to reference again. If the email really isn’t important (old newsletters, invites for meetings that have already passed, etc) – go ahead and delete it!