Become a model of e-mail efficiency

Look at your e-mail inbox. If it’s empty, skip right to the “Tell Us” link below to share your e-mail management tips. If you can’t see all your messages on one screen, keep reading.

This is “Clean Out Your Inbox Week,” designated by Marsha Egan, author of Inbox Detox. Instead of taking one stab at finding the bottom of your inbox, change your practices to keep it clean every day. As an executive, your e-mail habits can affect everyone you work with. Here are five habits that will make your entire team more productive:

  • Specify what you need. If your inbox is filled with FYI (and CYA) copies of messages, explain to senders when to include you on distribution lists. Express your confidence in your staff’s abilities to handle day-to-day issues, and instruct them to report only major issues to you.
  • Code messages. Set a simple system using common subject lines so that recipients can create rules in the e-mail program that filter messages into folders. That means the “Weekly Sales Figures” message can flow directly into a Sales folder for recipients to view later, not upon delivery to the inbox. One great time-saving shortcut to use in subject lines: NRN, for “No reply necessary.”
  • File and delete. To keep your inbox clear, quit using it as a holding file. Create folders for the messages that you can’t delete upon receipt. For example, if you can’t reply to a message immediately, move it to a Respond Today folder that you empty each afternoon. Be ruthless about deleting messages that you no longer need.
  • Delegate processing. If you have an assistant who regularly sorts your paper mail, hand that person the same assignment for your electronic mail. That not only saves you time but also allows others to receive faster replies to simple messages that the assistant can handle, such as requests to schedule a meeting. Encourage staff members to have a co-worker check their e-mail inboxes when they are out of office, so they never return to an overflowing inbox.
  • Use e-mail appropriately. One of the greatest time wasters in offices today is people constantly checking their e-mail or responding to new message alerts. If you send your team rush assignments by e-mail, you force employees to frequently interrupt their work to monitor incoming messages. Set team standards for responding to e-mail, so employees can feel confident that if they check their messages every two hours, for example, they won’t miss anything important. Encourage them to call or talk with teammates directly when they need a faster answer.

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