February 19, 2008

The Email Avalanche: Five Tips for Survival

I don't believe in email.
I'm an old-fashioned girl.
I prefer calling and hanging up.
--- Sarah Jessica Parker

How did we survive in the days before mobile phones and bottled water? Now we're reachable in the washroom and spared from drinking the tap water we use for cooking.

Mobile email is the latest necessity. Technology makes us more productive. We can work anywhere, anytime. So we do. Our earnings per hour drops (see How Much Do You Really Earn?) and we have less time for other priorities. Unless we deal with email better.

Five Tips
Timothy Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Workweek, shared 8 suggestions for dealing with email outside office hours on lifehacker, a practical site to help us get things done.

Here are my five tips for dealing with email.

1. Check Email Intermittently
I check messages before leaving home and after getting home. On my rare days in the office, I check messages mid-morning and mid-afternoon. When I'm with others, I show respect and courtesy by paying attention to them. Not everyone reciprocates.

2. Send Replies Later
Few messages need an immediate reply. Even urgent requests can benefit from clarification and a thoughtful reply. Since scarcity is a universal principle of influence, a moderately delayed reply increases your perceived value. Much better than looking like you're sitting around with nothing to do.

3. Reread the Reply
Too many emails have obvious spelling mistakes --- Blackberries don't have spell-checking --- or grammatical errors. The content could be ambiguous, requiring more emails for clarification. A review is the effective --- but boring --- solution.

4. Send Emails During Office Hours
When you send an email affects how it's perceived. While I work outside office hours more than I intend. I'm not proud of this and don't want people to know. So I'll compose emails but wait to send them during business hours.

There are two exceptions
  • email with attachments, which requires a slow, cumbersome logon process
  • travel to different time zones,
These emails are usually sent when written.

5. Archive Emails The Lazy Way
Until 2006, I archived email in appropriate folders. Despite the time spent organizing, I had trouble finding messages. There's a better way thanks to free desktop search tools from like Copernic and Google. Now I use two offline folders in Outlook each year
  • 2008 Move In: all email received during the year (moved from Inbox weekly)
  • 2008 Move Out: all email sent during the year (moved from Sent Items weekly)
Now I only need to know whether I sent or received the message. And the calendar year. Much easier.

Your ideas are most welcome too.


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