Managers get tons of e-mail every day. It can be overwhelming. What can be done to ease the pain?
Joe Kerr: This is a tough one. In the past, I used to hate going on vacation, because I’d have 500 e-mail messages to slog through when I returned. It almost wasn’t worth it. Then I went to a time management class and got some great advice. First I set up a filter on my e-mail to delete all mails that I’m copied on. If my name’s not in the To: field it’s just not that important. Second, I try not to respond to any mail messages that aren’t from people that are important – like my boss, until I get the same one at least 3 times. If it’s really important, the person will follow up, or they will call me, right? When I’m not in meetings I’m in e-mail, constantly working to reduce the e-mail volume. Now I never have more than a few hundred e-mails in my inbox. Life is good.
The other thing I do is pure genius. Usually once a week, I’ll log in at some ungodly hour of the day and respond to one of the boss’ emails. It makes it seem like I’m constantly working. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and the boss eats it up.
Wanda B. Goode: The first thing I do is try to reduce the amount of mail coming in. Sounds difficult, but it can be done. Some people copy the world to cover their butts. You don’t have to do that. If you are copied on recurring e-mail that doesn’t concern you, ask the sender to remove you from the list. Most will comply.
Set some rules for you and your team/organization to follow. In general, when something goes out to a large # of people and it requires a response, don’t respond to everyone. Rather, respond to the sender. Let the sender compile the results and post a summary if necessary.
Don’t use e-mail to set up meetings. Use schedulers for that. If you don’t have a scheduler, by all means don’t hit reply all to a request for meeting availability. Some people feel they need to let the whole group know they are available between 1 and 2 on Friday. One request ends up spawning 10 messages. In these situations, again, respond to the sender only. The sender can collect the responses and then let the attendees know the time of the meeting – 2 messages instead of 10.
If something requires a lot of back and forth, pick up the phone and work it out. Once a message spawns 3 more, it’s time to end the trail. Work it out with the necessary parties. If you must, summarize the solution in a final e-mail that does not invite additional responses.
Turn off the ping on your mailbox and only read your e-mail at designated times each day. You are a manager, not a call center representative. If you need to respond to e-mail messages minutes after they arrive, you have bigger problems than e-mail. That’s pure reactionary management. It’s extremely shortsighted and inefficient. The bottom line is, you can’t get your meaningful work done if you are constantly interrupted.
Discard whatever you can, create to-do’s for those that you need to respond to and file them away. Keep the in-box down to 75 messages or less. It can be done.