Stemming the flow of e-mails

E-mails are indispensable. But in bulk they are a distraction and waste a lot of time. Clear rules for e-mail traffic can minimize these negative effects.

How many e-mails we actually receive is particularly apparent when we return from vacation. We find hundreds of messages waiting for us that we would normally have dealt with alongside our daily work. And that’s exactly the problem. Anyone who constantly checks their e-mails and responds immediately will get bogged down and end up wasting time.

But how can e-mail traffic be managed efficiently without neglecting urgent matters or upsetting customers and colleagues?—Many HR consultants and career portals address this issue. The key tips are: Set aside fixed times to deal with e-mails, such as a period around midday and another just before you stop work for the day. During these periods you should process each mail immediately and completely. In other words, answer all urgent mails, or inform the sender who will look after the matter. Spam and irrelevant messages should be deleted immediately. Move anything that can wait to appropriately named folders for resubmission. That way your inbox will always remain clear.

Efficiency starts with the sender
It’s not just handling incoming e-mails that requires rules. As the sender you should also give some thought to your own and the recipients’ time. This begins with using meaningful Subject lines, and considering who really needs the information in your e-mail. For communication within a project, it’s useful to set up two or three lists of recipients so that you can switch quickly and efficiently between a large, a restricted and a small group of recipients. And, of course, e-mails should always be brief and to the point—without neglecting the basic rules of politeness.

These rules serve as a guideline, but should be adapted to suit the respective needs. Sticking rigidly to your fixed mailing times when projects are at their busiest or during other time-critical situations is likely to rapidly infuriate your superiors, colleagues and customers. If you want to stem the flow of e-mails you need to remember the whole point of this means of communication: fast, easy and precise exchange of information.

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