TimeWise: How to Tame Your E-mail Monster

By | November 3, 2009

Ubiquitous, effective, efficient, simple, annoying, maddening, perturbing, frustrating, and indispensable. All are adjectives that can describe e-mail. Most of us have a love / hate relationship with our email.

Like a hammer, e-mail can be used to build or to wreck. E-mail is a tool that can be used to improve your communications or confound it. It can be a time saver or a time sucker.

Your effective use of e-mail will put your time where it is most effective. Many of us find that e-mail and the Internet can be a black hole, exerting an irresistible, almost manic, pull on our productivity.

Here is proof. In my last column I suggested that you should only check your emails every 90 minutes. My own e-mail and (to a lesser extent) the comment section of the Insurance Journal Web site was blue with disdain. Many told me they have to check e-mail every 90 seconds in order to keep up. From the name-calling you would have thought that I had questioned the virtue of the reader’s mother!

Ninety nine percent of the e-mail we all get can be addressed quite well, making clients quite happy, if we respond within a business day. If you can respond faster, great. Frankly, with many of the people I encounter, I’m just glad to get a reply without having to send a reminder!

Constant checking of e-mail saps productivity. Most of our work requires some level of concentration and attention. Being in the middle of 10 tasks means that you are constantly trying to figure out what is what, draining away time and contributing to errors.

Here are some more email time wise ideas:

  • Happiness is an empty inbox. When you check your e-mail, empty your inbox. Your inbox is for new mail. You don’t leave mail in your post office box do you? When you get a new note delete it, reply to it, or put it in a folder for later reply. Trying to work from your inbox is like trying to manage your snail mail sitting in the mail room.
  • Your e-mail address should not be from Yahoo or Hotmail – probably not Gmail either. I am amazed at how many professionals do not have their own e-mail address. Bush league. Skip the e-mail style gimmicks. Don’t add backgrounds, moving icons, or garish colors. Simple, clean, and neat.
  • Use the tools included in your software. Most will let you filter messages. Some put messages into folders and others attach labels. Your software can take notes from your inbox and put them into folders for future review. My e-mail moves the newsletters I subscribe to to a “Read Later” file. I never touch them until I’m ready for them.
  • Bing! Turn off the new-message indicator. You really don’t need to know that you have a new e-mail.
  • Never send an e-mail without a descriptive subject. The subject line is what grabs your reader’s attention and helps you (and your corespondent) find the e-mail six months later. Be descriptive.
  • Hold off on “reply to all.” Does everyone really need to see that you said thanks?
  • Watch your tone. Are your messages perceived as curt? Explain yourself clearly. Never use “happy faces” in business e-mails!
  • Include a signature file appropriate for the recipient and your business. Almost every e-mail you send should have all your contact info at the end. Phone, website, fax, mailing address at a minimum. Include some biographic info if you like – no random quotes – inspirational sayings – or Hotmail solicitations! Dump the smiley faces and the environmental pleas too.
  • Temper your temper. Never hit send when you’re angry. Stick the diatribe in your draft folder overnight and re-read it in the morning.
  • The pause that de-stresses. Set your software so that e-mail is delayed a few minutes before actually being sent. Most of us have had the experience of hitting the send button only to immediately want to add or delete something to the note.
  • Touch each e-mail in your inbox once – reply, delete, or, if you have to, put it aside for further work. If you do put it aside you only get to touch it one more time.
  • Use spell check. Why anyone sends an e-mail anymore with “teh” instead of “the” is beyond me. Use the technology you have available.
  • Don’t rely on spell check. Their, there, and they’re all pass spell check. Only one is correct within a specific sentence.
  • Short e-mails are almost always better than long e-mails. The habit of succinctness is vastly and overwhelmingly underutilized in today’s world of commerce.
  • Limit the number of topics you cover in an e-mail. Everyone scans e-mails rather than reading them. Hit on a few topics. Use frequent and short paragraphs.
  • Sometimes, a phone call is better.

Simmonds, CPCU, ARM, CMC is a consultant and insurance career mentor. He can be found at www.ScottSimmonds.com <http://www.ScottSimmonds.com> . Join the Time Wise Blog at www.BeingTimeWise.com <http://www.BeingTimeWise.com> .

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