Government Communications Service
Five ways to improve the management of your emails
Blog posted by: Stephanie Hill, Acting Head of GCS Curriculum, Cabinet Office, 13 July 2022.
How can you minimise the number of messages you receive? How can you avoid dozens of back and forth emails to complete a task? How can you optimise the process so that your inbox isn’t overflowing?
These were questions that I asked myself. So I decided to look into this further and see what methods I could implement and then share my learnings back with like-minded colleagues.
Deal, delete, delegate
I’ve recently been reading about email management. Not so much because of the quantity I get, but specifically to help with how to deal with them in an agile manner.
I talked in a previous blog about “deal, delete, delegate your emails” but I find that although it is a useful mindset there is always something in us that says “reply “ when we hear a ping or see a new message.
I now avoid replying right away, after a quick glance deciding if it can wait. But it’s too late, I’ve been interrupted from the task I was doing and now it is going to take me several minutes to get back into it.
I learned that some colleagues with dyslexia are less likely to reply right away because they need time to digest the email and find the right time to write the reply. The same colleagues may also prefer to receive information by voicemail, rather than email or instant messaging. So it is important to discuss how best people want to be communicated with.
I also need to take time to consider what style of communication I find the easiest to absorb and how I ensure I communicate this.
Cal Newport, author of the book: “A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload” says:
The problem is every time you check an inbox, you induce a context shift within your brain. So, you’re switching your attention from the primary thing you’re working on to an inbox full of messages, most of which you can’t address right there in that moment.
And then you’re trying to bring your attention back to the main thing, that creates a huge pileup within your brain that reduces your effectiveness, that stresses you out, it makes you anxious, it makes it harder for you to think.
Considering this, I’ve been testing techniques and I’m going to share what I’ve used, what worked, what didn’t and what I’m still testing.
Technique 1 for fewer emails: eliminating distractions
Emails arrive and I feel like I need to reply right away. This stresses me out and makes me rush.
I put an ‘out of office’ on explaining that I will only check my emails at 11 am. This also manages expectations for replies. This has been great to release the pressure on me to reply right away.
By letting people know I don’t want to be disturbed, it helped me keep distractions to a minimum. I feel much better and less stressed.
Technique 2: Send fewer emails and use a shared document
I was going to work on a big project which meant lots of emails and copying lots of people in it. This meant possibly losing track of emails and action status, despite tags, labels and folder rules.
I suggested to the key stakeholders to update a single shared document, daily. In one part, I would add all the questions I had, and then they could answer in their own time. Another part of the document shows the progress update. And knowing we had a daily catch-up at the same time, helped us manage the workload.
You can use:
This one has been a life changer in the past 2 months and I recommend everyone to do it. It is also a nice way to look back at your week and see all the work you completed, So I’ll keep doing it.
Technique 3: Trying email free day
You have lots of emails coming in, the number can be hard to manage and organise, creating another feeling of dread.
I suggest trying an email-free day if your role or organisation allows it. This can be freeing to do the planning, strategic and evaluation work.
We haven’t gone email-free yet, but asking colleagues for different ways of working can be effective and liberating.
Technique 4: Creating emails rules
you receive lots of emails from the same people or a group email and you cannot keep track of the latest action or updates.
Set up rules. Automation can be a great way to organise your inbox. label or your folder with the name of the project and feel free to deal with that topic in a more organised way.
Emails from a person or a project are easy to find in a specific folder. Having the emails going directly to folders means a clearer way to plan your day and your week. This is still a work in progress but still very helpful. I couldn’t believe it when a colleague I talked to never heard of the rules-setting. She said it changed her life!
Technique 5: Create an email template
If you use a shared inbox, set up templates. This is, for example, a set text that you will use for the same type of query. It will help you become faster and easier to reply to repetitive queries. If you use a ticketing system, you can assign emails to your team and be able to know they are being dealt with.
Zero email inbox
A zero email inbox is not realistic in the workplace but your goal can be to not let them phase you and try to reduce the number you send and receive.
For example, I use instant messaging for a quick question but use an effective email to discuss something important or plan a task.
Let’s avoid hitting “reply all” and let’s find a process to help us work more effectively, without the need for so many emails.
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