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Productive Email

Many professionals receive upwards of 75-200 emails each business day. Some people are so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of email that they end up piling on new communication tools such as chat and text messaging simply to get a timely response from their equally-busy colleagues. We are often caught drowning in the tsunami of messages, feeling like we can never seem to tread enough water to make progress.

Process vs. Check

How many of us ‘check’ our email throughout the day? We open a message, read a few lines and decide to come back to it later. Perhaps we even add a flag or other indicator that it is important. Once ‘later’ comes around, we open it again just to remind ourselves of the content, and in some cases, we touch the very same message several times before we ever respond (or delete…or ignore). How much time are we wasting each day with this activity?

Every time you look at that message, you are draining your productivity. An alternative that could save you hours each week is processing your email using the ‘OHIO method’: Only Handle It Once. When you open it the first time, deal with it before moving on to the next message. Respond, delete, file, add it to your task list – do whatever needs to be done and get it out of your inbox the first time you touch it. What about the messages that require more action than just a quick response? The ones where you are waiting on someone else to respond or handle something, and you don’t want to forget to follow-up? Or messages with the ‘task bomb’ embedded that could take you hours to finish?

Inbox Zero

One of the most impactful strategies I’ve found for email is the use of three folders: @READ, @ACTION and @WAIT. When you receive something that you would like to read but there is no action associated (such as newsletters), move them to the @READ folder so they are available when you are ready. If you find you are stacking up piles of those messages and never getting around to reading them, it is a good indication you should unsubscribe.

When you receive a message that includes a task or other deliverable you can’t complete quickly and isn’t a priority for today, move it to the @ACTION folder and add a task to your list or an appointment to your calendar. Making sure it is captured allows you to address the topic based on your priorities, then you can easily access the folder to find the message when you are ready to take action.

And my favorite of all is @WAIT. How often do we have a message that requires someone else to either respond or complete a task? Perhaps we’ve sent several time options for a lunch meeting, and we need to be sure to follow-up if the person doesn’t respond in a few days. Or you’ve asked someone to handle a task, and you are waiting on them to confirm it is completed. Moving the messages to this folder allows you to check on it as needed (daily, weekly) without worrying that you’ll forget.

Simple Change

Although email can absorb several hours of our day, simple changes in your approach can make a big difference. Consider writing the message in a way that avoids the ‘email ping-pong game’. For example: “I’m available these three dates / times to meet in this location. If one of those works for you, please feel free to send a calendar invite.” Another example is making it clear that a response to your message isn’t needed: “FYI only, no response is required”. Or providing very clear subject lines that indicate what / when action is needed, or the specific due date for a deliverable.

If you take a few seconds to think about the content of your response, you can decrease the number of messages you receive each day. Combining strong content with the ‘process vs. check’ and ‘inbox zero’ strategies could result in saving several hours each week. Can you think of something you would love to do with the few extra hours you’ve gained back from a cluttered inbox?

Author: Becky Jacobs, Chief Engagement Officer


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