Next in the Time Management for Leaders Series, I want to address email. Email can be the bane of our existence. We need it, we love the speed and efficiency of it, but we hate the volume and tediousness of it as well.
Most people in my life know that I hate to see that blue number above someone’s email icon on their phone. When I see a number like 10,322 (unread messages), I start to sweat and have trouble breathing. I am proud to keep my Inbox under control (and under 10 messages most of the time!). Here is how I do it.
- Do not be a slave to that little “ding” on your computer and/or phone ( turn off notifications on as many apps as possible, including email at times). Set aside specific times of day to read and respond to email. Based on calendar 911, you can schedule this time into your day as needed to get started. During your specific email-reading time, follow the tips below to achieve the smallest Inbox you’ve ever had.
- When you read an email, make an immediate decision about it. If you need to respond,
- write the response and send it
- write the response and save it in drafts to be sent later (be sure to make a note on your calendar about when to send it)
- schedule time on your calendar to complete the response (and necessary research, collaboration, etc.)
If you do not need to respond,
- delete the message (if it is junk, unsubscribe or mark it as junk so it never reappears!)
- forward the message to the appropriate people
- file the message in the appropriate folder within your email system (see #3)
3. Create folders with your email based on the type of messages you need to save. Folders can be the names of people (your boss, your team, etc.), topics (schedules, Twitter, PLC, etc.), or events (Back to School, Open House, Homecoming, etc.). They can also be task-oriented (Do This Week, Completed, Save for Reference, etc.). Folders are used to get messages out of your Inbox that you have dealt with, but that you need to save. Beware that saving every message just creates cluttered electronic filing cabinets!
4. Every six months, block out 30 minutes to go through your folders and archive or delete messages that you no longer need. In my school district, our email system has limited capacity and our inboxes often get so full we can no longer receive messages. If I saved everything, I would never get another email again! While this may sound tempting, this can be quite damaging when you miss important tasks. Even if your system (like Google) has a much higher limit, I encourage you to do this. Email folders can be just like dusty file folders in filing cabinets – full of unwanted and unnecessary stuff.
5. Avoid the “reply all” nightmare email chain. When you are sending out a message to a large group (such as your entire staff or district), put your own name in the “To” line and then put everyone else in the “BCC” or Blind Carbon Copy line. This way, even if someone hits “reply all” their message will only come back to you.
- A side note to this, if your colleagues are unfamiliar with email etiquette, as the leader you are responsible for modeling this and supporting them in their learning. If your staff is known for inappropriate email banter, set the example with your emails and follow-up with individual face-to-face conversations.
6. Create rules for emails. In my job, we use Outlook so it’s easy to create rules to send certain emails directly into a folder. We get a daily message that says if our spam filter is holding any spam messages for us. Because I don’t want these message to clog up my Inbox first thing each morning, I set up a rule so that they go directly to my Spam Filter folder. Then, when I have time and my important emails have been handled, I can check that folder to take action. I also set up rules for the ListServs I am on. I enjoy receiving and reading blogs and newsletters via email, but I like to read them on my own time. If they immediately go into a folder, my Inbox is not overloaded and I make time to read them at my leisure.
7. Be sure to delete your junk and deleted messages regularly. I also make a point to go through my Sent Mail regularly and delete many messages. I often save Sent Mail that is important (for documentation, reminders, support, etc.), but I get rid of all the minor messages exchanged throughout a week.
8. Do not ignore email. It will pile up and get unmanageable quickly without a system. If you are going on vacation (or will be out of office for full day workshops), schedule a response to be delivered to anyone who emails you so that they are aware of when you will return and respond. If you are overwhelmed, revisit your calendar and use that to schedule time to support your email responses.
[Time Management for Leaders Series]