Friday, November 5, 2010

4 Steps to Gaining Control of E-Mail

For those of you have been in a shopping mall recently, I'm sure you've noticed the holiday decorations that hit the stores sometime after Flag Day in July. While you may have thought that was a tad bit early to be thinking of what you want from Santa this year, this latest story may have you thinking about what you'd like at the top of your gift list this year: An empty e-mail "in" box. Intrigued? Here's how it can happen, as I learned in this story I did for Gannett/

Think about it for a minute: How many hours could you add to your day if you didn't have to deal with e-mail?

Mind-boggling, isn't it? To think what you could get done at work if you didn't hear that little ping signaling another incoming e-mail every other minute. What would your evenings and weekends be like if you didn't spend them trying to catch up on e-mail? Can you even imagine a — gasp — empty e-mail inbox?

That's exactly what Rosemary Tator and Alesia Latson say can happen. For everyone.

No matter what you do for a living, no matter where you work, an empty e-mail box is attainable, they say. E-mail doesn't have to dominate your life, and you can put an end to e-mail being nothing but a huge time suck and stress-inducing activity, they claim.

The key is e-mail triage, they say. The emergency room practice that allows doctors and nurses the ability to quickly deal with the most critical cases first is a practice that the average worker bee also can employ.

In their new book, More Time for You, (Amacom, $18.95), Tator and Latson have several important steps to deal with e-mail effectively.

1. Separate facts from feelings. To change your e-mail habits, you have to understand how you feel about it.

"People often feel they're being bombarded with e-mail. They think it's ridiculous, and they get all worked up," Tator says. "So the first thing to do is to think about how you feel about e-mail. Is it an intrusion? Or do you see it as a way to stay connected with other people?"

2. Schedule time to handle e-mail. "Some people are just addicted to e-mail. They're addicted to their need to respond quickly. It's a badge of honor for them to answer an e-mail at 2 a.m.," Latson says.

Instead, the authors urge people to answer e-mail only at certain times throughout the day.

While it may take some coaching of others to get them to understand you'll respond to noncritical e-mail within about four hours, they say it's a habit that can influence others to do the same.

They say you should set up a procedure to reach others immediately via phone in urgent cases.

3. Set up e-mail triage folders. Folders should be labeled "delete," "do it now," "respond today," "schedule a specific time on calendar," "waiting for response," "file it," "someday" and "freedom."

For example, anything that can be handled in less than 2 minutes should be in the Do it Now folder. If you're not planning any action but want to hold onto some information, put it in the Someday folder.

And the Freedom file? That's for those people who have an overwhelming number of messages and need a place to start. Anything more than two days old gets moved to that folder.

4. Unsubscribe. While you may have deemed it necessary years ago to get all notifications of of sales at your favorite department store, you may no longer find that helpful. Establish an Unsubscribe folder, then spend some time getting off the mailing lists of newsletters, alerts, bulletins, etc., that you don't find important.

Tator and Latson agree that e-mail isn't all bad. It provides instant gratification, Tator says, while Latson notes it's "a great way to handle the logistics of living" and has been a savior for more introverted individuals who find it difficult to communicate via phone or through personal conversations.

However, they caution that just as e-mail has good — and bad — aspects, the same is true for another communication tool: social media.

The explosion of sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn mean that users should get control of their use early before it becomes another source of stress and overload. Not putting rules in place could lead to bigger problems down the line, they say.

When deciding what social media to use, determine how and why you're using it, what you want to accomplish, where it fits on your priority list, and how much time and when you're going to devote to it.

The authors suggest using your calendar to remind you of when to visit your social-media sites, and then sticking to the allotted time so that it doesn't suck away your time.

Any other e-mail tips to share?


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