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Organized & Productive 
February, 2016     

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Managing the E-mail Monster
(part 1)

When asked for their opinion about e-mail, most people express conflicting feelings. Yes, it's quick, convenient and efficient. But it can also be overwhelming, stressful, and a huge, time-sucking monster!
One of the most common hurdles to being more productive is poorly managing your e-mail - both incoming and outgoing. In some ways, e-mail has become even more of a burden than paper in most of our lives. It's just too easy to generate and too easily allowed to proliferate. After all, those visible piles of snail mail and paperwork are hard to overlook. But electronic clutter, easy to hide, is even more ubiquitous and contributes just as much stress to our overwhelmed schedules. In this two-part article, I offer some tips for getting that electronic in-box under control and keeping it manageable.
The first step to managing e-mail is to generate less of it on your end. Consider that some habits you may have acquired without actually thinking about it may be putting more stuff in your in-box (and into others') than is necessary.
1. Think before you "Reply All"
This has to be one my biggest pet peeves of all e-mail habits. Many people automatically just hit "reply" when responding to a group e-mail, and their default response button is set to "reply all". This puts their response in every single person's in-box, whether it needs to be there or not. Sometimes, everyone does need to see everyone's responses. But more often than not, only the sender needs to see your response. Case in point: a meeting manager sends out the date and time for a group meeting and asks you to RSVP so s/he can get an idea of who will be there. Responses of "Yes, I'm coming," "OK, I'll be there," or "Can't be there, because my kid has a soccer game," pour in. Not just to the sender's box, but to EVERYONE'S box. Seriously, folks, we all don't need to know! And just having to take a second or two to scan each one and delete it, whether opened or not, just sucks up time and energy that should be directed to more important stuff. Like checking out Facebook. Or deciding if I really need another Starbucks tall, skinny, hazelnut latte, or should I save the five bucks and make a pot here. Really, anything is more important than reading and deleting all of your unnecessary "reply all" responses.
Think before you click. Better yet, set the default response on your e-mail to "reply to sender", so that you really have to consider for a second while changing it to "reply all" whether everyone really does need to see your reply. (And it only takes one unintended, accidental "reply all" response that reveals embarrassing or hurtful contents to change that habit forever...)
2. Reduce group e-mails & cc's
This goes hand in hand with the "reply all" habit. Does everyone in the group REALLY need to see this, or need to be copied on it? Consider carefully before habitually sending e-mails to a large group of people, some of whom may only be peripherally involved with the issue, or not involved at all. You run the risk of being the "boy who cried wolf" one time too many. If people have become accustomed to receiving a large number of e-mails from you as part of a larger group and most of the time there is little, if anything, in them that is pertinent to them, they will start to just skim the contents. They may even eventually just ignore it. Then you run the risk that when there's something really important they need to see, they will miss it in the deluge.

3. Take advantage of the subject line
If all you have to do is confirm a meeting time, or ask a quick question, use just the subject line of your e-mail. If one sentence will communicate what you need to say, the recipient can just skim the subject line and get the message, and save both of you time.

4. The 3-point rule
The best e-mails are short, sweet, and to the point. Try to communicate what you need to say in three points. Use bullet points, and elaborate only when necessary. People read most e-mails only cursorily, looking for the main content. Long, complicated explanations will probably obscure the most important information that you're trying to convey. If what you have to communicate will take more than three points, you're better off dividing it into several separate e-mails with different subject lines so that your e-mail can be more easily found in a search when people need that information.

And save the social bits for the end. You know, the "how are the kids," "hope your vacation was great," etc., that most people begin e-mails with. Put the important stuff straight up at the top. Then, if you like, close your e-mail with a nice, personal, social note. If someone has taken the trouble to read all the way through to the end of your message, the sentiment will more likely register more positively, be much more appreciated, and less likely to be viewed as mere introductory drivel.

5. Pick up the phone
E-mail is a really convenient tool to communicate with a large group of people, or to convey simple, straightforward information from one party to another. However, sometimes using e-mail is more time-consuming and can make communication more complicated than necessary. If I'm scheduling an appointment with a client, my preference is always to speak with them in real time on the phone. It saves the back and forth of "I have openings on these dates and times," "Can't do any of those," "Ok, how about these times?", "well, I could do 2 pm, but not 1". Two days and ten e-mails later, we're still going back and forth over a matter that could have been settled in three minutes on the phone.

Complicated conversations are almost always better using the spoken rather than written word. Yes, it opens us up to having to say hard things in person sometimes. But consider that vocal tone, nuance, and emotion are almost completely absent in e-mail. Think about the times that you might have misunderstood, or been misunderstood, in an e-mail. How much time and energy did it take to unwind it all and make the necessary repairs/amends? Wouldn't a five-minute phone conversation have been more efficient? And really, you can use all the emoticons you want, but a smiley face just can't temper the impact of a difficult, possibly hurtful conversation that an appropriate, gently delivered, voice-to-voice communication can. We hide behind electronic communication because we think it's faster and easier. But it's also easier to misunderstand, and to ignore. Pick up the phone. Get it done.

Breaking some of these popular, long-ingrained, e-mail-creating habits should help to reduce the flow into your inbox and re-work e-mail into the efficient tool it was designed to be.

Next month: How to manage what does come in
(and what may have been there a long time...)

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Lisa S. Griffith

Hear Lisa Speak

on Organizing & Productivity

"Making Your Kitchen Work: Kitchen Organizing Secrets from a Professional Organizer" - presentation 
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
12:00 - 1:00 pm
Brown University
(Faculty & Staff)
Providence, RI

"Get Your Time & Space in ORDER" - presentation  
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
12:00 - 1:00 pm
(Faculty & Staff)
Warren Alpert School of Medicine of Brown University
Providence, RI

"The Four Organizing Traps" - presentation 
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
12:00 - 1:00 pm
Brown University
(Faculty & Staff)
Providence, RI


In order, in joy, 



Lisa S. Griffith, CPOŽ 
The Organized Way
Organizing & Productivity Specialist/Speaker 
Phone:  (401) 289-0042
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