Posted on July 25, 2013 · Posted in General

What is it about email?

Most of us have a love-hate relationship with email. It may be the most essential tool in today’s office space, and for that reason, many of us tend to check our inbox frequently – otherwise we might miss something important. At the same time, email tends to take over our lives, filling hours of our work day. The end result: an inbox out of control.

“There are two problems with the flow of email into our workdays: the volume of it, and the way it interrupts us,” said Jared Goralnick, Founder of AwayFind, an app that alerts you when an important email is delivered to your inbox. “The volume of email not only overwhelms us, but it makes it difficult to prioritize what we need to be working on. Even worse, it makes it very easy for messages to slip through the cracks. The interruptions that email causes are similarly pernicious. Every time a new email notification comes into view, we lose several minutes to investigating it, and then another several minutes to regain our flow on the original task.”

Business needs email, of course, but all employees, from the top down, should be encouraged to put a few best practices in place to best incorporate email in a business.

— Review Email First; Process Later. Productivity expert Maura Thomas said she will quickly scan her email on her phone on a regular basis, making it easier to answer an urgent email with a phone call or jot a quick email. Then, once a week, she takes a couple of hours to process everything in her inbox. “To me, processing means dealing with every single message, and either deleting it or moving it out of my inbox. When I’m done, my inbox will be empty, but this can only be accomplished if I halt the messages from downloading. I have my client set so that the messages only come in when I press the Send/Receive button. I can then answer, delete, or file when necessary, as long as I have all the information I need to dispatch each message,” she explained.

— Get into the Inbox Zero Habit. As Goralnick put it, Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero is a tactical philosophy that helps us to identify a fast and nimble way to process our inboxes. When email is taking over your productivity, it is time to examine what you receive and why. For example, do you need to be subscribed to twenty newsletters? Probably not.

— Separate Business from Personal. When someone asks for your email address, the temptation is to provide your business email because that is the account you use most often. Instead, separate business from personal. Set up a personal email account to communicate with friends and family and social media contacts.

— Once Organized, Stay Organized. It took a long time to get your inbox organized. Now the trick is to keep it that way. The most common way – setting up folders for different projects or contacts – is not the best way to stay organized or stay more productive. According to IBM Research, “Users who just searched their inbox found emails slightly faster than users who had filed them by folder. Add the time spent filing and the searchers easily come out on top. Apparently the filers are using their inbox as a to-do list rather than wanting to categorize information to find it more easily.”

It may take a while to get your inbox under control, but once these best practices are in place, your email will be a better business asset.

Sue Poremba is a freelance writer focusing primarily on security and technology issues and occasionally blogs for email hosting provider Rackspace Hosting.