October 19, 2021

21 Tips for Handling Email (So That It Doesn’t Handle You!)

Are you truly handling your email, or is your email handling you?

According to our recent post, Survey: What is Robbing You of Your Time? 15 Very Busy Professionals Weigh In, 7 out of 15 people feel like the email dragon is getting in the way of their productivity.

So, I have put together 20 suggestions to help you start your process of addressing your email so that it doesn’t run your life.  Here we go:

  1. Set aside time to really get to know your email program. You will more than likely find 8-10 ways to reduce and organize your email to avoid overload.
  2. When sending emails use Tiny Url or Bit.ly to shorten long urls. Long urls break, which creates another email asking for the actual link.
  3. Keep your email conversation to 3 exchanges.  On the 4th exchange, pick up the phone, call the person you are playing email ping pong with, and resolve the issue over the phone. Keep your time on the phone limited.  You have things to do, so get to it.
  4. Opt out of every newsletter or article directory you are not reading. Many people push newsletters and articles into folders that are never read or even viewed again.  Out of sight is out of mind, so either read the article as it comes into your inbox or ditch it.
  5. When you buy online, watch yourself before you check out. There is usually a little box at the bottom of the page that is already checked asking you if you want to subscribe to their mailing list.  Uncheck this box (unless you really have to have the emails).
  6. Check emails 3 times per day…at 9:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m. and at 4:00 p.m. Then, leave it alone.  Checking email all day long is one of the most inefficient uses of time, and it can create a bottleneck and distraction in your day.  Specify on your website or voice mail or at the bottom of your email the times of day you check email so that the sender knows when to expect a response from you.
  7. Watch out for the shiny star of distraction! You know what I mean.  It goes like this:  You open an email that takes you to a web page, you see something interesting and shiny, and there you go…off to another web page, then another and another.  You look at the clock and suddenly, an hour or two have passed by (time you could have invested making money for your business!)
  8. Keep your emails short and to the point. Long, drawn out emails should actually be a phone conversation.  To keep these short emails professional, make sure to include a salutation and a closing signature to keep the email personal  (remember…there is another person on the other end of the email).  The majority of programs include a feature to create a standard closing signature.  Just make sure to add something like “Best, Bea” or “Sincerely, Bea” before your contact information.
  9. Respond to people with a quick answer in the subject line of your email. Let your contacts know you are using this technique, to look for the answer in the subject line and not to open the email.  They will greatly appreciate this approach, because it saves them time as well.
  10. Use a program such as Mailwasher to clean your junk and spam before it hits your inbox. In the first few weeks, you will be “washing” your mail frequently (deleting mail, marking mail as spam) and removing it before it hits your inbox.   The mail washing process diminishes over time, and you will have less and less junk and spam hit your inbox.  While many programs have great spam filters, they are not fail proof, so adding a system to clean out spam will save you time, frustration and distraction.
  11. Consider switching your mail program to Google Apps. With Google Apps, you can continue to use yourname@yourdomain.com, while creating labels, reporting mail as spam or telling Google Apps to bypass your inbox and send the mail straight to trash.  If you are receiving spam, you can also mark the mail as spam, and it will disappear and automatically go straight to your spam filter.
  12. Contact your network and let them know that you will be posting regularly to your blog, Twitter account or Facebook wall. (This can all be done automatically if you have a WordPress blog which pings your social networks). This will cut down drastically on the number of emails you receive asking for more information on a presentation you lead or on a program you are offering.
  13. If you are using Twitter or Facebook, keep your contacts to a minimum number. Who can possibly keep up with 10,0000 followers on your social networks?  If your contacts on social networks is beginning to exceed 500, it will be hard to keep up with everyone, and you will receive more email from people trying to sell you something via direct message.
  14. Create filters, folders or groups for quick access. Many email programs provide the ability for you to choose to have certain emails actually skip your inbox and go straight to a folder, filter or group.  Then, at the end of the day, scan that folder or folders for important information.  If you have received 3 emails from the same person, answer them all in one email and not in 3.
  15. When sending email, create a super specific subject line. I have found that it is much easier to find that email if the subject line has a unique word or phrase in it.
  16. Respond immediately. If an email is timely and/or urgent, certainly go ahead and respond asap.  If the email is not urgent and is a question that can be answered down the road, simply reply and say “Thanks John for the email.  I cannot address this today.  Can you please email me again on XYZ date, and I will be able to give this my full attention.”  With this approach, you are not filing away an email, you are putting this back in John’s court to email you back.  While many may say that this is shirking responsibility and placing it back on John’s plate…just remember…he contacted you…not the other way around.  If John really wants to discuss an issue, have you read an introduction to his new book or set up a time to shoot the breeze, he will get back to you.
  17. Use an online appointment scheduling system that syncs with your calendar to prevent people from contacting you for appointment scheduling. I use TimeTrade, but there are many programs out there that are really great.   I also recommend Tungle.  The system is free and offers a lot of features that make life easy.
  18. If  spam continues coming into your inbox from the same domain or user over and over again, report the abuse using SpamCop.
  19. Keep no more than 20 emails in your inbox at one time.  Otherwise, anything beyond 20 is again “out of sight”, which means it is “out of mind”.  And, another 20, 30, 40 will pile on top of this.
  20. Do it, ditch it, or delegate it. We have heard this 1,000 times, but how often do we really practice this.  At the end of the day, your goal should be to have a 100% clean inbox.  If not, tomorrow morning, you will have 20, 30, 50 or 200 emails on top of what you never addressed.
  21. Keep the YouTube videos, joke emails and chain letters away. While so many of these are funny and can brighten up your day, they are a distraction.  Once again, filter these to a folder called “jokes and videos” and then look at them when you have free time.  Watching videos and reading jokes throughout the day will take up precious time and energy you will need to devote to your business.

I realize we all live in a digital world, and email is one of the top ways we correspond with others.  My concern is that email is now overwhelming our lives, creating isolation and interfering in building intimate, face to face relationships.  If you cannot get your email under control with these strategies, then maybe it’s time to let the world know that “Hey…I don’t do email.  My phone number is _______________ .”

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