E-mails can be especially efficient for requesting information, providing requested information, conveying information, exchanges that should be documented, and communicating with more than one person at a time. But remember: e-mail is technically devoid of tone. It’s whatever the reader thinks you meant when he or she opens your e-mail message.
The phone is better when a response is needed immediately, when voices and tones are important to the message, when there’s something to discuss, and when privacy is needed.
Set up convenient times to check e-mail: Turn off the notification feature so it doesn’t distract you and interrupt your work. Tell people that if they have time-sensitive questions or requests that need a reaction within an hour to call you instead. Remember, if it goes “ding” you will check it and try to do something about it.
Only look for “veggies” the first thing daily: Compare new messages with the half-dozen “veggies” that you put on your Daily List the evening before to decide whether a task is a “veggie” or not.
Use the auto preview function: That way you can quickly read the subject line and first three or four lines of the message. After checking your e-mail, set the view to normal.
Set up effective folders: Set up folders to save messages you want to keep, such as “take action immediately,” “pending,” “fingertip reference,” “meetings,” “delegate,” and “projects.” Within each, set up subfolders. Your e-mail folders and subfolders should match your desk filing system. Don’t have too many or you won’t be able to find anything anyway.
Don’t use your in-box as a to-do list: It’s like piling papers on your desk. Never have more than one screen of e-mail messages in your in-box. Set up a reminder for the messages you file. Move messages to your calendar as appropriate.
Act on e-mails when you read them the first time. Go through all the messages once and delete spam and other wastes of time. Then, act on the most important messages. Finally, file the rest to keep your in-box clean and save time. At the end of each day and week set up times to delete and file email so it doesn’t get out of hand.
Use “rules” to manage your e-mail: Create filters or rules to block, delete, or route incoming messages directly into the appropriate file folder that you specify. Also, get yourself removed from electronic mailing lists unless you really need them.
Batch your responses to e-mail: When you are doing one thing at a time, it will take less time. By checking your e-mail at regular intervals (say, four times a day), you can concentrate on handling just your e-mai l and finish faster. Give yourself 15–30 minutes to handle as many messages in your in-box as you can, in the correct priority, then close it and work on something else.
Use the “out-of-office” feature: Use your e-mail like you would your voice mail. If you’re going to be out of the office, adjust your sender’s expectation of a quick response by setting up the Out of Office feature. This will tell your sender immediately that you’re out of the office for a specific period, so they can contact someone else in your place until you return.
Reply promptly: Return e-mails the same day. At least acknowledge receipt; otherwise, the sender may call or e-mail until you do. Tell the sender if you’ll be away; use the “out-of-office” feature to reply to each e-mail.
“E-mail is the most abused form of communication in the workplace today.”