You are an email sinner. Email distracts you at the office and interrupts your family time at home. You are spending more and more time searching for missing messages. The clutter in your inbox rivals the chaos on your desk.
These are the five email commandments that can turn your email messaging life around. They aren’t easy to follow, but they will lead you to a better, more productive place. Consider this: you’ll be using email for a very long time – you should be good at it.
Process email at most four times a day. If possible, delegate your inbox to an assistant so they process incoming messages for you. This will allow you to focus on what is important and what to do next. A report by CNN claimed that frequently checking your email lowers your IQ.
File messages and attachments into project folders. Get messages out of your email program as fast as you can and into places where they can be shared and organized. Don’t let your email program become a silo where only a portion of a client’s or case’s information is stored apart from other documents, spreadsheets, etc. Put it all in one place. Don’t forget to file ‘sent’ messages, too!
Practice basic email hygiene
Use a signature block with your phone number, fax and alternate contact information so people can reach you by other means than email.
Avoid “Reply to All” – embarrassing consequences are far too frequent.
Never reply to a message when you are angry.
Skip “FYI,” “OK,” and “Got it,” replies that simply add clutter to an already cluttered system.
Avoid using your professional email address for personal communications.
Don’t “hijack” subjects: keep an email message on topic; create a new message if necessary.
Use BCC: to distribute a generic message to a large group. Your address book may contain contact information a friend or business partner may prefer not to share.
Invest time to develop your email skills. Create rules for email processing and let your email program do the work. Aspire to become an email ninja by watching tutorial videos on YouTube, using the “Help” system or asking a friend to demonstrate an advanced skill. Shaving a few seconds off processing each message can save you days by the end of the year.
Employ an email system that gives you access from anywhere: office, smartphone, web or home, but presents a consistent view. If you delete, send or file a message on one device the action should be reflected on the others.
The state of the art in email delivery means you should not be bothered by more than a few spam messages a day – if you are, change your email provider. Email is best suited to short subjects that can be digested in a few seconds. If your message doesn’t fit on one screen consider sending it by postal mail, as an attached PDF, or a fax. (Never send a .doc file!)
While email makes it convenient to send all kinds of attachments, be aware that many systems limit the size or type of attachments that can be delivered. A client’s email system recently broke down after a message with a large attachment was distributed to every employee. Mail servers are like any other computer: they need storage space to operate and depend on backups to protect information. Both of those resources are strained by carelessly using email as a digital dump truck.
Finally, protect the safety and security of your email by placing a strong password on every system or device you use to send or receive email. Much of your life is now threaded through the electronic messages you share with friends and business partners – all of it is in your inbox. And if your email is important to you or your business, make sure it is protected by backing it up regularly. The pain of the loss of all your email may not approach that of a loved one, but it can sure make you feel sick.•
Kim Brand is a technology expert, author and president of Computer Experts, Inc. For a free Audio CD on email management send a note to: [email protected] or call 317-833-3000. The opinions expressed are those of the author.