How to Manage Email Effectively
When you learn how to manage email accounts, you’re learning how to manage time and building your communication skills. If you’re like me, you get a lot of emails coming to you any given day, from friendly e-mails, business notes, spam, solicitations, advertisements, blog replies, your favorite hobby updates, and from countless other sources. Eventually, your email inbox becomes a monster. Some email systems require you to constantly manage your inbox, so messages don’t start bouncing off a full e-mailbox.
If this sounds like your life, follow the tips below to better manage your email situation. None of the email management tips are hard to do, and they’ll make your life easier and your work more efficient.
E-Mail Overload Tips
Get a Gmail Account
You probably already know this, but “gmail” is the Google email resource. Gmail claims to have unlimited email space, so packrats don’t have to worry about deleting valuable emails. Gmail also allows you to create labels and task folders to help you organize your emails. Gmail allow you to “star” rate emails, so your most important miscellaneous emails stand out on your screen, and can be accessed alone. Your email address also has its own internal search engine, so you can search your email by keyword or key phrases, if an important email goes missing.
Gmail also lets you save files from your computer or sent to you through email to “Google Documents”, so you can access documents and other files from your computer, or terminals anywhere else in the world. Saving to Google docs takes one click and gives another level of organization you don’t have in most email systems. Gmail also allows for chats, so you can communicate when you’re online with other Gmail users, though you can also sign out of chat or go invisible, if you need to get work done.
Some people with slow connections and dial-ups connections (there’s one or two of those still left) complain that their Gmail’s homepage takes too long to come up, since there is so much information likely to be contained inside. If this becomes a problem, you can change to “Older Version” or “Basic HTML” mode, which are found at the bottom of your personal Gmail homepage.
Gmail Labels and Folders
Once you’re on Gmail, you can create labels to help categorize your emails. You can make broad folders for broad categories like “Work“, “Girlfriend“, “To Do“, “Parents“, “Hobbies“, or you can make folders for specific situation like “San Jose Project“, “Vacation Plans“, “Facebook” and “Fantasy Baseball“. When you get an email you want to put in one of these categories, you just click on “Move To” at the top of your inbox and select the label you want to move the email into.
To get emails out of your inbox, but still retrievable, you can also “Archive” them. This gets the seemingly needless emails out of your face, but allows the inner pack rat to maintain a huge backlog of emails, in case one of them turns out to be important. For obvious spams and scams, you can set up spam blockers, and use the check-and-click “Delete” option to quickly get rid of emails that offend you.
Email Processing Times
Now that you’re getting emails your email situation organized, you should organize your email time, as well. Have set times you read and reply to emails throughout the day, instead of reading and replying as they come in. Most of us know that we can get email alerts to our various electronic gadgets, but these don’t really make our communication system more efficient.
When you stop your work or play to respond immediately to every email, you’re actually hurting your productivity, because there’s are studies that show it takes a full 2 minutes to be back to your previous level of concentration, when you stop concentrating on the task at hand. Two minutes here and there throughout the day adds up to a lot of time.
Also, when you answer emails in real time, there are going to be a number you’ll say “I’ll reply to that one later”. But if it’s already marked “read” or been opened, you’re just as likely to forget the message entirely. This means a lot of important email messages go unreplied to.
Instead, have a few times in the day that you read your emails and reply to them in bulk. This means you only stop down to check emails a few times in your work day, so you aren’t stopping and starting and dividing your attention throughout your work time. When you do decide to reply, choose to make your replies one-by-one all at once, and never “leave one for later”. This leads to more thoroughness in your communications.
Make Short, Efficient Replies
This is one I have to remind myself about all the time. Short, pithy replies are better than long-winded, rambling replies. That sounds simple, but you often want to over-explain what it is you’re explain, and it ends up sounding like a big ramble or rant. If that describes you, take care to be concise.
Don’t use unnecessary sentences or words. Address the essential questions and topics in the original email. Know what needs a response and what doesn’t.
Also, make your replies readable. Use paragraph breaks often. This makes your reply easier to read. If you have a block of sentences 15-20 lines long, whatever you say in line 10 is likely to be lost in the jumble. Don’t be surprised when the person on the other end misses something important.
Be a Good Communicator
Another part of being a good communicator is making a connection to the reader. Address your email friend by name, and sign off by name. This changes the tone of the email from impersonal to friendly and personal. The time it takes to make this change is a split second, too.
Proofread and Make Necessary Changes
Before you dash off an email, re-read it once, edit typos and make sure the writing is clear. If you have trouble reading over the email (knowing what you’re saying), your audience is going to have a doubly-tough time. Also, it’s bad form to have typos, misspellings and grammar errors.
Typos and misspellings are easy to correct, since everyone has spell check. Gmail has a great spell check function that takes a second and underlines in red every questionable word usage. Bad grammar is harder to spot, if you haven’t sat in an English class in 20 years, but read over the note and see if it sounds right. If a sentence doesn’t sound right when read aloud, it probably isn’t. If you want to be real conscientious, you can keep a handy grammar book at your side.
Proofreading makes you sound more professional, better informed and smarter (frankly). Proofreading your email replies just once sends a better impression, and makes you a better communicator.
Send a Bridging Email
When you are solicited by people you don’t consider spammers, send a short reply email to them, even if you don’t have the time or ability to fashion a full answer or reply at that moment. Simply let them know you got the message and you want to replay, and then give them a time frame when you think you’ll be able to answer their question.
You’ve no doubt sent emails out to people and never received a reply, and that probably chapped your hide. When you don’t reply to thoughtful emails, you do the same thing to other people. Sending out a short bridging emails gives them a positive impression of you. Besides, it’s the polite thing to do.
Add a Dedicated Signature
A dedicated signature is a personalized sig line at the end of your emails which automatically includes a blog link, website address, or other link to something you want to promote. If you have something you want people to see, make sure they have an easy way to see your work.
Collect an Address Book
Finally, Gmail also lets you collect an ever-growing logbook of email addresses you can organize, helping you to get the most out of your networking instincts. You can do this with the people who send you emails, adding them automatically into your contacts. But you can also easily cut-and-paste and label your growing email list as you go.
All of us tend to forget a cool website the second we navigate away from it – or we forget about 20 seconds after we navigate away, due to the way short term memory works. But you don’t have to forget, once you start saving your favorite addresses on Gmail.
Managing Email Overload
There are other methods for how to manage email contacts and correspondence, but Gmail is the best one I’ve found. Even if you hate Google for some reason, follow the rest of the advice I give you and it will make you a better organized, more efficient and more polite email user.
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