By: Alex Fernandez
Internet Marketing Strategist
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar on productivity and managing multiple priorities in the workplace. It was an all-day seminar, called “Managing Multiple Priorities, Projects and Deadlines,” with Larry Singer from Fred Pryor Seminars. Throughout the day, it seemed to touch on a little of everything – from prioritizing, to delegating, to effective communications, and specific tips on topics like scheduling, time management and productivity. I would highly recommend any one in need of a productivity boost attend this seminar.
Since much of these concepts apply to ANY business, and most or our readers are business professionals, why not share the love? So, over the next few weeks, you’ll see a few blog entries on the subject of productivity – starting with this one: “5 Tips for Managing Your Email”. Let’s begin!
5 Tips for Managing Your Email Inbox
#1: Schedule blocks of time for checking and managing your emails.
Your job title probably isn’t “Professional Email Checker,” so don’t let it take over your day. Working in an agency environment, much of my daily communication occurs via email. It’s fast, effective, documented, searchable… ideal really. However, it comes with some pitfalls. Sometimes, we receive SO much email, that it’s easy to lose track of time and waste hours of the day answering emails, rather than handling important, high-impact tasks.
Don’t… respond to emails immediately, in real time. It’s a surefire way to kill productivity. This is something that we have also learned from our friend Charly Caldwell II’s Internet Success Academy and Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Academy. One can only deduce that if multiple expert sources give the same exact advice, then the advice is indeed worth listening to.
Do… schedule blocks of time throughout your day to check and respond to emails. Typically, I limit this time to 15-20 minutes, at the beginning of the day and after lunch. Sometimes I’ll check once before I go home. By limiting these email checks to 2-3 times per day, 30-60 minutes total, we can guarantee ourselves the remainder of the day is dedicated to doing our actual jobs! Novel idea.
#2: Check your inbox from the most recent to the least recent.
This is the EASIEST tip on this list to adopt. However, many of us mistakenly check emails by the order in which they were received. This is a mistake, because there might be a chain of emails that have already been taken care of before we get to it. By checking the most recent emails first, you are certain what the current status of the email conversation is before investing time into responding.
Tip: In many email programs, you can set up your inbox or any email folder to “group by conversation” making it easy to see if there is an email thread and quick to locate the emails within that thread.
#3: Keep your inbox clean.
Mr. Singer described email as “the modern-day paperwork.” Having an inbox full of unsorted or unread emails is just like having a giant pile of papers sitting on your desk. The problem with letting emails build up in your inbox is that you don’t really know what is on your plate (or what should be on your plate) – And when you finally get around to it, you waste valuable time figuring out what to address first.
By keeping your inbox clean, you can better prioritize your tasks. Prioritizing involves dealing with the most important, most urgent tasks first, and then moving on to the least important, least urgent tasks. By keeping a clean inbox, we can ensure that we have all the most current information on our projects, and we can plan our schedules around the tasks that have the highest priority. There are a number strategies we can use to keep a clean inbox two of which are my #4 and #5 tips for email productivity, below.
#4: Use advanced search terms.
When you first commit to cleaning your inbox (if you haven’t already), you will likely have a backlog of emails that need to be sorted into folders. To speed up the process of sorting your emails into folders, I highly recommend using advanced search terms. These are special terms you can enter in the search field in programs like Microsoft Outlook, Mac Mail, etc. The key is to use search queries along with Boolean operators in order to refine search results. Explanation of what that gibberish I just spewed out actually means below:
A query is a type of advanced search that sorts emails based on a certain criteria. Common queries include “FROM:”, “TO:”, “SUBJECT:”, and “CONTENT”:
- Example: “FROM:firstname.lastname@example.org” or “FROM:name”
- Function: display any emails that are from a certain email address
- Example: “TO:email@example.com” or “TO:name”
- Function: display any emails that are to a certain email address
- Example: “SUBJECT:keywords from subject line”
- Function: display any emails with matching keywords in the subject line
- Example: “CONTENT:keywords from entire message”
- Function: display any emails with matching keywords in the entire message
You can also use “Boolean Operators” to combine multiple queries using logic. For example, if you want to see all emails sent by person A, to person B, with a subject line that contains a certain keyword, you could use Boolean Operators. A couple common ones are “AND” and “OR”:
- Example: “AND”
- Function: display any emails that match criteria of query 1 AND also match the criteria of query 2
- Example: “OR”
- Function: display any emails that match criteria of query 1 OR match the criteria of query 2, but do not have to match both queries
Now, we can combine our search queries with Boolean operators, thus taking advantage of advanced search terms! For example:
- To combine the “FROM:” query with the “TO:” query,
- Use this search term:
- FROM:firstname.lastname@example.org AND TO:email@example.com
By using advanced search terms, you can efficiently get your backlog of emails sorted into the folders you need.
#5: Create smart mailboxes.
Most mail programs, like the ones previously mentioned, have a feature called “Smart Mailboxes”. These are mailboxes that search your inbox all of your other folders for messages that match a certain criteria, and fill themselves! These are a great tool for email productivity, because they are automatic.
Let’s say you have a person that you frequently communicate relating to one specific topic, you can create a smart mailbox that automatically populates with messages that are from that person or are sent to that person. In addition, you can setup these smart mailboxes with virtually any combination or search queries and Boolean operators listed above. So the better you get at using advanced search terms, the more accurate your smart mailbox will be at automatically sorting your email.
There ARE two minor drawbacks to smart mailboxes that you should keep in mind.
- They are automatic, so what the smart mailbox displays is only as accurate as the logic of your search queries and Boolean operators. Since these are purely logic-based, they’re not for everyone and can be difficult to setup for some.
- They do not clean your inbox! They display all messages from anywhere that match the criteria, which is a great convenience – HOWEVER, you should still take the time needed to actually clean your inbox. And don’t worry, when you sort your emails into folders, the smart mailboxes will still work just fine.
BONUS Tip: Ask yourself, “Is email the “RIGHT” format to get this particular message across?”
In James Borg’s Body Language: 7 Easy Lessons to Master the Silent Language, Borg states:
- 93% of communication has nothing to do with the message itself.
- 55% of communication is body language
- 38% of communication has to with our volume, tone of voice, or how we express ourselves
- 7% of communication is the message itself (what an email message would contain)
Before you invest time into composing an email message – if there is anything at all that could be taken the wrong way or misunderstood, reconsider email as the format. Perhaps make a phone call so the person can hear your tone of voice. Perhaps schedule an in-person meeting or Skype meeting so the person can see your body language. We’re human beings, and as efficient as email can SEEM it can sometimes be counter-productive if it’s not the best way to get our points across.
Thanks for checking out this week’s entry in our Productivity Series. Look out for more helpful entries in upcoming weeks that share what we learned in the seminar. We’re all about helping other businesses and business people succeed, and productivity is a big part of that!