Tips to Help You Manage Your Emails

Image of a person with a pile of Inbox emails

We have noticed that some customers have love/hate relationships with their Inbox. Some tell us that the constant stream of emails is one of the biggest causes of stress.  This is being made worse by Smartphones, which mean that customers have no escape from e-mails at home or when on holiday.  So, in the hope that it may help, here are some tips to help you manage your emails.  Tips that might make life a little less pressured.

Everyone tells us that the key is to send less email.  If you send less e-mail you will receive fewer replies.  If you receive fewer replies there will be fewer e-mails that you need in turn to reply to.  It is simple when stated, but how do you do it?

Tips to Help You Manage Your Emails – Send Less Mail

Don’t send it at all.

I bet if you really think about it you will be able to identify at least one e-mail you sent last week that did not serve any real business purpose?  Also I bet you can identify another one that would have waited a few days.  It is all too easy when you are working on a project to slip into a habit of constantly keeping everyone up-to-date on the latest that is happening.  So in a week we might send an e-mail every day, when one e-mail at the end of the week would have been fine. If four less e-mails are sent, that is four less e-mails that someone may acknowledge/reply to.

Don’t copy people in.

If you copy people into an e-mail many of them will respond, even if it is just to acknowledge receipt.  So if you copy 10 people into the e-mail and let’s say most of them responded, that is potentially 10 more e-mails to read/file/delete.  So, think first. If every hour you stop sending a copy to just one person that equals 7 a day. That could mean up to 35 less e-mail acknowledgements you receive in a week.  Plus remember that their reply may contain a question that you would then need to reply too, and so on and so forth.

Consider speaking or phoning.

Image of an computer support person with thumbs up showing success

We all know this one, but it is always worth stating again.  Setting up appointments is the classic example that I think everyone has experienced. You know – no I can’t make Friday, but I can do Saturday, oh but John can’t do that day, so what about next week…  Think first whether email is the best way for this type of job?  Would it be quicker to speak to the person directly, or phone them. Maybe add it to your list to chat to them about when you next meet them?  When you are extremely busy it often feels that ‘firing’ off an email is the quickest solution – often it is not.  Sometimes a phone call is quicker.

Encourage others to send less.

If you are a manager then you could forward this article onto your employees and encourage them to do all of the above. If you are lucky, this will hopefully mean they will send you less emails and receive less themselves…

Don’t Reply to Emails

Don’t automatically reply.

Yes, you should acknowledge an e-mail that is sent directly to you but you don’t always need to if you are just being copied in.  Just the word “Thanks” is often sufficient acknowledgement. Thanks can be better than than long sentences that may start a whole new conversation.  In the above example where 10 people were copied into an e-mail, would you be one of those who would reply automatically. Whether you needed to or not?  Think before you write – do you really need to reply or can you just file it?

Wait before you reply.

We have all experienced the customer/colleague who sends loads of emails – sometimes 5 or 6 in a day.  You can choose to reply to each one as they arrive (6 e-mails and six potential replies). Alternatively, if they are not urgent, wait a few hours and just send one reply to everything.  One e-mail and hopefully (although no guarantees here!) one potential reply.

Wait before you reply – again.

Don’t be the person described above that sends five e-mails throughout the day, when one at the end of the day would do.  It is so easy when we are busy to just ‘quickly send an email’.  This is fine, but be aware that it can result in more conversation threads.  This, in turn, can mean that when you come in the next morning you might find you have received hundreds of emails.  Remember if you send five emails you will get potentially five replies and start five chains of conversation.  If you send just one though… Create the email, save it as a draft and just add to as necessary.

Wait before you reply – yet again.

It is so easy to get in the habit of updating colleagues and customers as things happen. Ask yourself, however, do they really need to know about everything that is happening?  Let me give you an example.  You ask me for a quote on a new server.

First scenario
1. I send an e-mail telling you that I have got the quotes from three of our suppliers but there is a delay on getting the quote in from the fourth
2. I e-mail you to let you know that we have got the fourth quote in
3. I send you an e-mail saying that I am just confirming some details about the quotes and will be in touch at the end of the week
4. I send you the quote

Second scenario
1. If the quote is not urgent, I could wait, not bother you with all the detail and just send you the quote and nothing else – one email.  If the fourth quote really is delayed, maybe send one email explaining the delay. Remembering to make it clear the second email is for information only and you are not expecting a response.

Wait before you reply – yet again!

Yes, because if you reply instantly to every e-mail you receive then you will find that people expect instant answers. Then all communication between you and this customer is done via email at a hectic pace.  This puts pressure on you.  Time and time again we hear of customers who have received complaints because they took an hour to reply to one of their customers e-mails.  That is something that we personally rarely hear at TTL.  Why?  Because we are not desk based, and when we are with our customer we focus on them, not our e-mails.  Customers know this and the result is that if a problem is urgent, the customer will telephone us. Otherwise they are happy to wait a few hours for a reply.  So we are proof that you really don’t have to reply instantly.

Think about what you are saying

Avoid questions – they equal replies.

Let’s use arranging a meal with friends as an example. You can send e-mails to your 7 friends asking “Whether they think a get together would be a good idea.  Do you fancy the new pub down the road?  I was wondering about whether Friday at 7 PM would be convenient for everybody?”  You will have asked 3 questions to 7 people so have potentially 21 answers coming your way.  Undoubtedly including suggestions for alternatives to the new pub that you will then need to get consensus on!

Alternatively, you could say positively, “Let’s meet on Friday at 7 PM at the new pub down the road as it’s been ages since we got together.  If I don’t hear back from you by tomorrow I will assume this is fine.”  Ok, yes I know they could all still say no. I think you will agree, however, the second statement is likely to generate less email ‘conversations’. So less e-mails in your Inbox.

Be clear

We have all received e-mails where we have no idea what the person is talking about and what follows is a long string of e-mails trying to clarify what is wanted.  Or e-mails where someone typed “do” instead of “don’t” and an equally long chain of emails resulted.  Don’t be ambiguous, be clear.  Consider calling the person to clarify.  You might find a five minute conversation may save a long and distracting “game” of email ping-pong.  If you need a written record of what has been discussed, send an email afterwards summarising the main points, clearly marked as information only and not requiring a response.

Make it clear when you don’t need a response

Put FYI and NRN in the subject line if you are just keeping people informed.  Then then know you don’t expect them to respond.

Time Manage and Organise Emails

Image of a person and email

Ignore your Inbox.

It can become an addiction, just checking for that important e-mail (even when you are not expecting one).  I find this very difficult to do personally, but this is one where the time management people are right.  Don’t constantly check your e-mail – check it once an hour if they may be time critical or twice a day if not.  I think this is particularly true if you have a Smart Phone – you are not only entitled to relax at evenings, weekends and holidays, it will mean you are more productive when you are at work.

File, Delete, Mark for Later Reading.

Don’t leave e-mails in your Inbox, organise them as you go.  Otherwise you will find yourself constantly scrolling up and down through your Inbox reading the same e-mail again and again (not the one you are trying to find of course).  As you read them move them into folders, make them tasks for action later, delete those you don’t need to keep.

Use Rules.

We all get e-mails that we need to receive but which clutter up our Inbox.  In my case (as I do the social media marketing for TTL) it is twitter notifications and LinkedIn groups.  For you it may be the weekly report from accounts, or the update about sales.  Microsoft Outlook and lots of other programs enable you to set up Rules that automatically move these to folders.

Smart Phones

Turn off notifications

It is really difficult to ignore a ping, beep, sound, and the instinct is to check the phone immediately.  This is one I am currently training myself out of as it is rarely urgent and the sender is normally quite happy to  wait an hour or two.  Set a time when you will check your phone. For example, say after breakfast/lunch/dinner/tea/supper and only turn on notifications if there is something genuinely urgent due.

Make it clear when you are available and what for

If you are constantly available during evenings, weekends and holidays then in the modern world some customers will come to expect this and abuse it.  Instead make it clear that you are happy to be available in specific situations (such as when work is urgent).

Acknowledge and Schedule

Try acknowledging and scheduling instead of replying. For example: “Good point Jo, I will look into that first thing in the morning and get you a reply by the afternoon.”

Hopefully some of these suggestions will help to reduce the number of e-mails in your Inbox.  If you need help setting up rules, folders, etc, you know where we are (01787 881475).

November 2013