Dealing With Email

Ahhh… The life of the 2008 government worker. Full of hours on Outlook (except you poor Lotus lovers) reading, writing, and loving email. And then there is managing email on the Blackberry.

If you don’t watch yourself, you can end up spending all day on email. As such, you need a system to manage emails. Generally, I get most of my advice from two sources – Getting Things Done and Lifehacker.

Here are some of my favorites on managing your email:

1) Manage the inbox – the first step of managing email is getting it out of your inbox. My philosophy is to try to keep my inbox to one screen (although I rarely seem to win this battle).

2) Use Folders – I try to keep a folder for each project I have at work. Whether it is related to the Intranet or a large six month project, I have a place where I can place that email. This makes it easier to find emails when I need them.

3) Turn it off – A little known secret is that you can turn off email. The secret is not opening Outlook or opening your Blackberry. Try it for a few hours.

4) Turn off the reminder – Ok…you aren’t really going to turn off your email. But you can manage it better so you aren’t checking email every five seconds. One great idea is to turn off your reminder (and noise) you get when you get a new email. Try to schedule your email for the last five minutes of every hour. Whatever you do, it is better to manage email instead of just reacting to it.

5) Spell-check – if you don’t have this one on automatically, it is a problem.

6) Have a signature – While it can be annoying to see the formal signature of your friend colleague when he asks you about lunch plans, the signature definitely comes in handy. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to coordinate a meeting and all I have is emails from a person with no contact information. Keep a signature so I know how to call you.

7) Push for New Tools – Ask for organizational wikis and any new technologies that will drive down email traffic. Haven’t you seen my friend Chris Rasmussen now-legendary diagram?

What are your tricks with managing email?

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I have to say, I don’t find email a problem in general. Like you said in Step 3 — if you are busy, turn it off. Yes, yes, I am a junkie and check my email throughout the day — but I don’t get enough for it to be a problem. (Sametime, on the other hand………..)

The problem I see with Email management is abuse. Here’s what I have to say on that:

1) Check the original mailing list before forwarding on to everyone in your unit. People don’t really appreciate receiving the same message 3 or 4 times from different people.

2) Beware “Reply to All.” It seems like at least once a year or so there comes some big “controversy” wherein every dumb*ss feels compelled to reply to all. My favorite example: someone had a winking Smokey Bear in their signature block, and then ensued a conversation about whether this was an appropriate use of the Smokey symbol. This went on for at least two weeks, with everyone across the entire agency replying to all with their — sorry, stupid — two cents. A more recent example was the same phenomenon sparked by a “stop sending me all the outreach notices” message. Guess what? If you don’t like to read them, just delete. It’s much faster than complaining publicly. Also, you don’t clog other people’s inboxes with your comments.

The bottom line is, you have control. What would happen for a few hours if you turned it off? Would the world stop turning? Don’t get me wrong – when our network is down and I can’t stay connected I get all freaky — but deep down I know that people lived for millenia without email or cell phones, etc. You can too. Unplug once in a while. You just might enjoy it!