How to manage email without losing your will to live

Got a love-hate relationship with your inbox? Time to make up.

By ROY HARRYMAN

With Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and texting, email is so passe.'

And yet so necessary. It's still one of the top ways people communicate. Especially on the job. Yet the flood of messages makes us want to give up.

Or possibly worse, we throw ourselves into our inbox with reckless abandon and never get anything else done.

There is a better way. Yes, you can manage email and make it work for you.

Don't engage constantly
Many people have their email notifications set to “ding!” every time a message appears in their inbox. When that happens, they stop whatever they are doing to respond. It's Pavlov's dog in the 21st century.

"But it might be important."

Well, the huge project that sits before you might also be important and you're stepping away from it every time you get an alert. Maybe email is the excuse you need?

Instead, teach people to actually pick up the phone and call if they have a need that is truly urgent and important. You can even put that into your email auto-response. By reacting instantly to every random message, you're communicating that this is how you operate.

“Ding!”

Oh, and turn off the Pavlovian alerts.

A few other tips

  • Set scheduled times each day to engage email. Then stick to it. I'm not advocating a policy of sloppy or slovenly response. You do need to get back to the sender in a timely manner.
  • Never use your inbox as a to-do list (talk about inefficient).
  • Use the folder organizing systems available in Outlook, Gmail and other email clients to organize messages so you can respond later (a folder for personal messages, one for professional development, etc.).
  • Stop spamming everyone with reply-all messages. Don't be part of the problem.

Use email to your advantage
Instead of simply trying to beat back the batch, look at each email as an opportunity to meaningfully connect. What relationship can you build? What need can you meet? What problem can you solve?

I recently took just a moment to write a colleague and thank her for her work on our association's e-newsletter. I was shocked at how much that little note meant to her.

Understand that email is also part of your professional reputation. The way you communicate matters. People still like it when you use their name, so be personal instead of impersonal.

Write in complete sentences, not a series of digital grunts and half-baked, half-finished sentences. 

Never, ever try to resolve a conflict through email. Get up the guts to look the person in the eye or at least call them.

Finally conclude each note with something positive. I stole “Have a Wonderful Day!” from another colleague of mine.

“Ding!”

Now turn off those alerts, schedule specific times to respond and live more productively.

Roy Harryman is the principal of Roy Harryman Marketing Communications.