Email and vacations are like oil and water

EmailAs I was sitting on the train coming back from vacation, I decided to get a jump start on the back to work ritual of cleaning out my email inbox. This gave me time to think about how I process my email and how to be more efficient. While driving home from the train station, I stopped into the Barnes and Nobles bookstore and picked up a copy of Lifehacker: The Guide to Working Smarter, Faster and Better. The first chapter was dedicated to managing email more successfully. I am walking away with a number of great tips that I have already started to implement. Here are some of the tips that I would like to share:

  • Manage an empty email box – I am finding this to be a challenging task but one I am working towards. The Lifehacker authors provided great tips for getting started. They advocate for doing something specific with each message that you touch. If you have to save a message, save it offline to Evernote, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.
  • Do not keep your inbox open – They also advocate for keeping your email program closed during the day and only checking your email 2-3 times per day. I have started doing this and my productivity has instantly shot up. The constant distractions cut into projects you are working on. I check on mine after I process in, after lunch, and during the last half hour of the day. They also recommend turning off notifications on your phone, Google Glass, smart watches, etc.
  • Take time crafting effective messages – The Lifehacker authors have a number of recommendations for crafting effective messages that will be read and help you get the information you need.
    • Begin with a clear subject line (yes, include a subject line).  Think of it as a tweet.
    • Keep your messages short.
    • Use bullets to help get the answers you are seeking. Bullets help the reader identify what questions you want answered.
    • Include only necessary people in your message and explain why you are including them
    • Are the attachments necessary? Can your event be included as plain text? Personally, if I just receive an attachment with no explanation, I will delete the message. Make it simple for the reader.
    • Perhaps the best advice given is don’t respond in real time. I respond during my set email times.
  • Leverage filters to organize your email – I am a fan of using filters and automatic processes as a means for organizing my email. Here are some examples the Lifehacker authors recommended for better managing your email.
  • Use message templates to speed response – If you are repeatedly sending out the same response, create a message template. I personally use PhraseExpress to automatically fill in a response for common responses such as task instructions. It is also possible to create these templates in Outlook signatures.
  • Craft answer in blog rather than email – At the National Extension Conference, Harold Jarche recommended crafting a response to a question in a blog rather than just sending the response in an email message. This not only helps the individual in question but also helps others looking for the same solution. It also provides you with a searchable database of solutions that you can offer others.

As I was clearing out my email on the train ride home, I had a lot of time to think about how I processed my email. These tips should help you be more productive, they have already helped my operations. What tips do you recommend? Let me know.