Every now and then you come across a statistic that stops you in your tracks. This is one of those statistics: ‘Email consumes an average of 13 hours per week per information worker and is often intimately intertwined with document workflow, sales, scheduling, and other business processes. Assuming that the average knowledge worker makes $75,000 a year, the time spent on reading and answering email costs a company $20,990 per worker per year.’* That statistic is astonishing for several reasons but the most glaring reason is that it means that most companies are losing productivity from their employees because they are allocating approximately a third (assuming a 40 hour work week) of their time reading and responding to email. In addition, if you ask the average corporate employee if their email inbox is bogged down with more emails than they can read, respond and track, the answer is a resounding yes. As a result, it’s imperative that companies take time to train their employees on how to manage email communications and detox their overstuffed inboxes – for good.
Email is the perfect example of a productivity tool that has been abused and overused. The benefits are obvious – email is timely, visual, far reaching and mobile. However, the challenges with email need to be addressed and managed – including appropriateness as a communication tool, etiquette, file management and progress tracking.
Let’s address the challenges today so that you can detox your email inbox – for good. This is the Who, When, Why, What and How of efficient email communication productivity:
1. Who should you email?: Only address or copy the key people that need to know the information in the email. A common mistake is to carbon copy or cc: too many unnecessary people on an email which leads to the overwhelming volume of emails we receive.
2. When should you use email?: While email has proven to be quick and useful, it should not preclude other forms of communicating. For example if an idea or thought cannot be summed up in a short email, perhaps a phone call or face to face meeting would be a better communication tool. Think about your options before you send.
3. Why should you write an email?: If you need to communicate information or request information from a person and it’s a task that you need to track or include others in on the conversation, then write an email. Also, if the person you are sending an email to needs time to respond, an email may be more appropriate than a phone call. Emails also serve as a vehicle for documents that need to be shared which can easily be attached to the email.
4. What should your email say and How should you say it?: One consistent complaint is that there seems to be a lack of universal etiquette to sending and responding to emails. Consider some of the rules addressed in the book The Hamster Revolution, by Mike Song, Vicki Halsey and Ken Blanchard:
o Use the subject line to clearly identify [pii_email_b47d29538f12c20da426] the purpose of the email
o Start the email with a short greeting, followed by a specific action, purpose and response time, use bullet points if necessary to clarify your message and finally close with next steps and an auto signature.
A well written email should be one to two paragraphs not a novel. To ensure that you can keep your message short and sweet, keep the email topic to one idea. It’s easier for the reader to track and respond to.
Finally, how do you personally file and manage your email communication so that the time you spend using email is productive and worthwhile? There are two processing methods that have wide appeal:
Option 1: 3 Folders – Your inbox is for unread items and short term projects that need immediate attention. The remaining 3 folders are:
1. Action Items is for emails that require you to take action but cannot be addressed in less than 24 hours
2. Follow Up is for emails that you are waiting for someone to respond to
3. Reference is for emails that you have already processed or no action is required, emails that you may need to refer to at a later date
Option 2: Archive and File – Like the 3 Folders approach, Archive and File involves keeping only unread items and short term projects that need immediate attention in your inbox. If you have a large number of emails in your inbox, you will need to make a decision as to the cutoff date for implementing the new procedure, 30 days is typically a good cutoff. Create an Archive folder and move all emails that are older than 30 days from your inbox to the Archive folder. This will enable you to move forward with instituting a new email processing strategy without having to focus on the back log first, which may prevent you from ever getting current. Once you get the new system up and running you can take the time to process the Archive folder into your new system a little at a time. Also, moving forward you should create labeled subfolders (i.e. newsletters, accounting, travel, etc.) in your inbox for emails you need to refer back to at a later date.
Remember for both email file management Option 1 and Option 2, you should Delete, Respond and File in a timely manner. Keep emails moving through your inbox so that only new or immediate action emails are waiting to be addressed. By processing or filing your emails this way, you will be left with less visual distraction in your inbox and it will be easier to focus on the priority emails each day.
By addressing email challenges you will spend less time reading, searching and responding to email on a daily basis. In addition, less appointments, tasks and requests will fall through the cracks. The key to managing your email moving forward is to maintain your new system consistently. A few minutes of daily maintenance can save you from email overload and lost productivity.