If you are anything like David and I, your email inbox grows each day and can feel overwhelming when it isn’t organized.
Uncontrolled e-mail clutter can become a flood that sweeps you under and swamps your productivity. Here are tips that will help you rise above the electronic flow:
• Track critical action items as an e-mail “conversation” progress, by changing the subject line to reflect priorities. For example, if a colleague e-mails you “Re: Annual Meeting,” change the subject line in your reply to read “Call travel agent by Friday.”
• Control your Outlook inbox with this tactic: Group messages by conversation topic. Under the View tab, choose Current View and then click By Conversation Topic. Outlook will group all messages with the same subject line, and you can easily delete all the threads, keeping perhaps only the latest message instead of having to wade through them all. You can quickly rearrange your inbox by clicking on the From, Subject or Received tab just above your messages—that’s easy to do and easy to change.
• Make action items clear. If you want someone to do something after reading your message, don’t hide that information. Put your request in bullet form at the beginning of the message. That way, even if readers only scan the full message, they can’t miss the most important part.
• Crystallize your expectations for each e-mail recipient. Choose one of these phrases to add to the subject line: “Action requested,” “Reply requested” or “FYI only.”
• Sort messages by subject when you return from an extended period away from the office. Read the most current message in a common subject thread, and read it from the bottom. That way, you won’t waste time commenting on an issue that has already been resolved.
• Set up a temporary inbox to handle an anticipated flood of messages. If you are advertising for an open position or offering a special promotion, you don’t want to risk losing important messages amid the usual daily influx. You can set up a temporary inbox using your organization’s server or take advantage of free offers from services like Yahoo or Hotmail. Simply delete the inbox when you no longer need it.
• Put limits on the back-and-forth e-mailing that can rob you and your co-workers of time and productivity. Here’s one guideline you should ask your team to adhere to: Whenever a message has ricocheted from one inbox to the next for more than two cycles, put down the mouse and pick up the phone or walk down the hall.
Hope this helps you stay organized in this electronic world.