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Column 9 email habits that could change your life

Emails are a handy form of quick communication – but also a source of stress if you’re not organised. If your inbox is giving you nightmares, Ciara Conlon has some tips to make your days a bit smoother.

WE ALL KNOW the old adage about the workman blaming his tools, when it comes to email and information overload we have to agree that there is nothing wrong with the tools, the problem lies with the workman and the workman’s behaviour.

We allow the chaos into our lives with our constant connectivity. We take our phones everywhere. Next time you are in a bar or a restaurant look around and see how many people have their phones out on the table. We check our email on our phones, tablets, laptops and even on our Kindles. Do we really need this incessant relationship with the outside world?

If you would actually like to get stuff done and stop being a slave to your email inbox, check out these positive email habits.

Turn off Notifications

Don’t be a slave to the ping; go to your email when you have assigned time for it, not every time an email arrives in your inbox. Turn off the notifications on your phone. Most of us have a number of social media accounts, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Google +. If you were to leave your notifications switched on for all of these networks you would never get any focused work done. Go turn them off now.

Unsubscribe to unread Newsletters

Take a look at your inbox, how many of the emails that you receive daily are of value? How many are from newsletters you don’t read or mailing lists you don’t need to be part of. Instead of just deleting them like you do most days, take a few minutes to eliminate them from your inbox forever. At the bottom of each email newsletter you receive you will see an unsubscribe link. Use it!

Write fewer emails

Write fewer emails to receive fewer emails. Not everything needs to be written in an email. Take a note of questions you want to ask someone and address them all together in person. Pick up the phone if you have an important question or use instant messaging. Email isn’t always the right mode of communication.

Don’t start in your Inbox

This habit will probably have the biggest impact if you can adopt it. Start the day with what you have planned in your calendar instead of opening your email. Take charge of your schedule and plan your day in advance. Process emails after you have done your first piece of important work for the day, in this way you won’t get distracted with what just arrived in your inbox.

Batch Process Emails

Don’t leave your email program open all day. Set times during the day when you process your email. Plan the work that comes your way through email. Your Inbox is not your To Do list, it is a way to capture work that comes your way. When you open your email you don’t need to do all the tasks today in an orderly fashion, schedule them in your calendar or put them into your task manager

Use a System

When you process your email follow a system, try the F.A.B system, File Act or Bin, every email that comes into your inbox can be dealt with in one of these three ways

  1. Delete the emails you have no requirement for,
  2. File the emails that need to be kept for reference,
  3. Make a decision on what needs to be done with the emails that require action, Delegate, Do (if less than 2 mins) or Defer to your calendar or task list.

One Reference Folder

File all emails into one reference folder, there is no need to create a folder for each client, account, or colleague. Search facilities are getting more powerful everyday so you can easily find what you are looking for with search. Filing emails methodically wastes more time than it is worth. Unless you have a legal requirement to keep records of all conversations with your clients, then you may need to file separately into folders.

Descriptive Subject Line

A subject line should grab your attention and inform you what the email is about. If it doesn’t complete these two functions think again and rewrite it. Your recipient should be clear about what the email is about and whether it is important enough for him to open. Take a look at the emails in your inbox right now. What subject lines grab your attention? Which ones alert you to exactly what’s in the email? Which ones make you want to open the email? When you are writing your email subject lines, think about what would make you want to open your email.

Company Protocol

Create a company email usage policy document, this document should state how email is to be used and what behaviour is expected around email. This document should advise employees of best email practises and the internal methods used to reduce quantities of emails sent. If you don’t already have one set up a company Intranet. A intranet allows for employees to access information easily, reducing the amount of internal email sent looking for documents. If company information is easily accessible this should reduce the need for unnecessary internal communication.

Spend some time adopting these positive habits and allow you inbox to become lighter and your days to become brighter.

Ciara Conlon is a Productivity Coach and author of Chaos to Control a practical guide to getting things done. She helps busy professionals save time and get productive. If you would like more help in controlling the email mountain, check out her eBook Email Zen, Freedom from Email Overload.

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