MU expert offers advice on managing email messages

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Average worker spends 28 percent of workweek with email

If email messages are overwhelming you, take heart, says David Burton, civic communication specialist with University of Missouri Extension. Proven management solutions do exist for reading, keeping and deleting those e-mail messages.

According to Burton, most people with e-mail feel overwhelmed at times by the volume of messages they receive.

"In most current time-management surveys, concerns about email management ranks in the top three and often as the number one concern," said Burton.

There is a valid reason people feel overwhelmed. Recent research finds that in the United States, 2.4 million emails are sent every second.

"Email is an essential communication tool, but it is important to develop strategies to manage it instead of letting it manage you," said Burton.

Trying not to let email interrupt your work and schedule by only checking it at set times is one effective habit.

"I check email at 8,10, 2 and 4, like the old Dr. Pepper slogan, and then I turn it off," said Burton. "Otherwise you are constantly responding to new email messages."

Another way to start is by setting a goal of reducing the number of times you check daily by 20 percent. To do this, individuals have to be more aware of how many times a day they are checking, including on a mobile device.

"Be aware too, that we often default to email to procrastinate or avoid a more important task," said Burton.

The ultimate goal is to get and keep your inbox at zero. A filing system for old emails is one way to make this happen according to Burton.

Another way is to deal with emails immediately. When you first get or read an email either trash it, refer it to someone else, act on it or file it.

"Make no exceptions," said Burton. "Otherwise you will just continually wander around your inbox handling the same email multiple times, and that is a real waste of time."

A second great management trick is developing a filing system for saving important e-mail so you can quickly search and find the information later," said Burton.

Developing a process of unsubscribing to junk email or deleting less important ones is good, too.

Individuals can also take steps to not add to the problem of too much email. For example, write better emails. Avoid using too many words, use the subject line to tell exactly why you are sending the email, and give deadlines for the information you need.

"You can respond to emails with a short answer in the subject line too," said Burton. "This makes it easier for recipients to scan messages and see your answer or response."

Burton offers these additional tips for managing e-mail:

If you do not like receiving junk e-mail, do not contribute to the problem by passing along cute stories, surveys, alert messages, and jokes.

If you receive an e-mail that is high priority, read it and deal with it at once, then move it to a folder or delete it. Do not handle the same message multiple times.

Do not neglect your e-mail messages. Take time every day to manage your messages.

Scan messages with a lower priority. Not every message has to be read and answered.

Do not print out your e-mail. This doubles the number of times you handle a message. Instead, create folders to file and store messages by topic.

According to research by the McKinsey Global Institute, the average worker spent 28 percent of their workweek reading and responding to email. Just think of all the time you could recover if you handled your email more efficiently," said Burton.