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How do you manage the email snowball?

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  • How do you manage the email snowball?

    Hi forum,
    I'm involved in a discussion on how to tame the email beast and how to manage an apparently unmanageable heap of emails. For those who get more than 100 emails a day it's a real question. Some of the extremes offer to check and manage each and every email and others - delete and not to react to as many emails as possible at all.

    What is your experience and best practices? How do you manage emails if you use Blackberry together with Outlook? How GTD helps you?

    You're welcome to give your feedback here or post directly to David Lorenzo's post here:

    or to my answer to him:

    massive emails is a disturbing factor for us and by sharing best practices and effective tips we can make our job more efficient

  • #2
    Originally posted by rytrom
    Hi forum,
    I'm involved in a discussion on how to tame the email beast and how to manage an apparently unmanageable heap of emails.
    I no longer get 100+ e-mails a day, and I don't carry a BlackBerry, but I can tell you how I do handle my e-mail volume.

    1) I batch my e-mails just like I batch my calls. I do not have an audible alert when new e-mail arrives. I do not have Oulook pop up it's little semi-transparent window when new e-mail arrives. I don't even think I get the little envelope in the system tray, but I might. I don't use Outlook for scheduling, as we deliver apps over Citrix, and I can't sync to my Palm, so I use Palm Desktop for Contacts and Tasks - meaning that Outlook is e-mail only. So, I close it down. For stretches at a time, I do not have an e-mail program running. I process and respond to e-mail in 15 minute sections, wherin you can get a LOT done. I have a clear inbox every day.

    2) This is the most important one. When I send an e-mail, I rarely cc or bcc anyone. If I do, it is because I have to keep some one in the loop. Not want to, have to. This sinks in to people. You start getting a lot less traffic that way. I think a lot of cc'ing is quite arrogant, frankly. Why would you send an e-mail to your direct report and carbon copy in their direct report and the manager of another department? Do they really need to know? If you need to consult with them, why wouldn't you meet with or phone them? It is too easy for them to then give you a drive by opinion that may not be thought out and that may change your direction.

    Besides, how would / do you feel when someone carbon copies your boss needlessly?

    CC and BCC should be used very sparingly, in my opinion. If everyone took this approach, e-mail traffic would be cut dramatically.

    3) I get a lot of reports generated by our systems. I get these automatically sorted into folders. I can point you to some great tips by Michael Hyatt, whose advise on folder helped me. The other tips on this page are also excellent.
    Last edited by ommoran; 07-09-2006, 09:53 AM.


    • #3
      Sweet post, Martin!

      Thanks a bunch for the great tips.


      • #4
        The most important lesson I ever learned concerning email management was when I finally understood why David places so much emphasis on "empty in box". Every time I go to my in box, I make sure I leave it empty. Aside from experiencing the distinct feeling that I have control over email, I know that my in box is never a trap for me. I look at each email, act on it, and forget it. It's either deleted or moved to a trusted place for appropriate follow up, but it will never be there to distract me the next time I check email. Taking charge at the front side of the process helps me avoid getting bogged down.


        • #5
          100 emails = 3 1/3 hours!

          Can you really afford to spend 3 1/3 hours each day processing email? I couldn't, so I tried a couple of things. I had a boss who said to "ignore" any email that you are not in the To: line (meaning anything I was cc'd or bcc'd on). so I set up an Outlook filter to move those emails to a separate folder. I processed only the remaining emails. I was amazed at 1) how quickly my CC folder grew! and 2) how many To's could actually have been CC's. I tried to make sure my To: was empty by the end of the day.
          As Martin mentioned, I only read emails at "break points". First thing in the morning, when I finished something, about an hour before leaving. Otherwise I was going to be a slave to that little envelope in the bottom right corner!
          Finally, to encourage behaviour in others, I made sure my subject line indicated why I was sending the email (e.g. Your feedback needed! or FYI Only! or Decision Reached!, etc). That way the recipients could decide for themselves what to do with it.
          But it is a constant struggle.
          Good luck.


          • #6
            Don't waste space / make the subject lline meaningful

            Absolutely agree - email is a constant struggle, yet far better than telephone or personal interaction for most communication. As for the subject line, I can understand how your approach can be helpful, especially within your organization. I will add that external correspondents might not be as likely to react to subject lines that demand their attention without some meaningful reason to do so.

            Somewhere along the way, I learned from someone (don't rememeber who) that the subject line should be an integral part of the communication. Many times, the subject line can BE the entire message. Alternatively, it should be a concise summary of the contents of the message. If the subject line can't contain the entire message, then write the email first and then compose the subject line as the last step - more or less like composing a headline or title for a written article.
            Last edited by spectecGTD; 07-20-2006, 02:43 AM.


            • #7
              The other extreme...

              Originally posted by spectecGTD
              Somewhere along the way, I learned from someone (don't rememeber who) that the subject line should be an integral part of the communication.
              I know people that do it that way all the time. The subject is: Can you send me the info on blah blah blah? You open the message and it's just a sig.


              • #8
                Put EOM (End Of Message) at the end.

                Originally posted by Vramin
                I know people that do it that way all the time. The subject is: Can you send me the info on blah blah blah? You open the message and it's just a sig.
                You can suggest that it is not necessary to open the e-mail by placing EOM at the end of such subject line. For example:

                Subject: Can you send me the meeting agenda? EOM


                • #9
                  Vramin: TesTeq nailed it. Do you like the concept?



                  • #10
                    email (best?) practices

                    Managing email is a critical skill in the modern corporate enviornment. It is one of the things I struggle with. It falls in the "The better you get, the better you better get" category. I routinely get 100+ actionable e-mails a day. David is right. 300+ per day is coming and he's not talking about spam and e-mail list stuff. He's talking 300+ per day that you'll have to deal with. Get ready. Here are some things that work for me.

                    1. I'm assuming you've already done the basic stuff. Either unsubscribe from mailing lists or have rules move mailing list mail to a read/review type folder. Get the best spam protection you can. Don't give your e-mail out unless people actually need it. Keep it off external web-sites, etc. Find the DEL key on you're keyboard and use it. Do everything you can to get as much non-actionable e-mail out of your inbasket as you can. Teach your direct reports about e-mail flags in outlook and how to use them. Train them on the difference between FYI and follow-up. Set up rules to manage those things.

                    2. Schedule time to manage e-mail. I have two recurring daily appointments of 1/2 hour each that I use every week day to plow through my e-mail box. Putting those on my calendar blocks the time so I don't get overlapping appointments and it reminds me to make sure I make time for e-mail processing.

                    3. Get fast at processing e-mail. You should be able to process 100 e-mails in under an hour. I use the Add-in for outlook and it helps in processing e-mail tremendously.

                    4. Train your staff, customers, and in a more gentle manner your boss to write better e-mails. If I can't understand what an e-mail is about in 30 seconds or less I decide that it must not have been important enough for the sender to think about so I don't need to think about it either. I will fire back an e-mail that says something like "Not sure what you want me to do with this? What do you need and when do you need it?" A more considered note should go to higher ups and customers but with the same purpose. Nothing is worse than getting an e-mail with a ton of quoted text that you have to read from the bottom in order to understand the issue. My staff know if they do this to me, the monkey will go right back on their back... Repeat offenders should get a bozo filter. Reward people who treat you right by giving their requests priority.

                    5. Write a subject line that is meaningful to both the sender and the recipient. If you're in sales and request a quote from the department that only does quotes and you're subject line is simply "quote", rest assured there is a special place in hell for you... Similarly if you are in the quote department and send out a quote to a sales person who has only one account and your single word subject line is the account name, there is a room reserved for you below as well. A better subject line would be "quote request for [customer name] needed by 8/1/06".

                    6. Addressee. There is a simple mathematical relationship here. The more people you address an e-mail to the more follow-up mail you are going to get. Putting a bunch of people on the To line is nuts. If you have more than 1 person on the To: line it would probably be better to call a meeting. Don't ever put anybody on the cc line except your boss and then only if he explicitly asked you to "keep him in the loop". Use bcc only to send to yourself. Just because you bcc someone doesn't mean they'll stay out of the discussion.

                    7. Write concise e-mail. Who needs to do what and by when? That should be clearly stated in the first couple of lines. In the subject if at all possible.

                    8. Ruthlessly say no. Keep your project list handy and let your boss know what you have on you're plate and when he needs it. If he insists, ask him to clarify for you where this new project falls in priority. Then document that in the project support materials.

                    9. Make yourself available by Instant Messaging but do not respond to e-mail instantly. Do you get e-mails like: "Are you in the office right now??? Call me ASAP." Let your staff know that the best way to reach you instantly is IM or by phone. If you are available you'll answer, if not you won't. Work in Offline mode and only download e-mail 2 to 3 times a day.

                    10. Communicate via an alternative mechanism. Pick up the phone. Call and leave a voice mail. This can be more effective than e-mail. Schedule an appointment or meeting. If a topic is really important or requires a fair amount of discussion among multiple people a well run meeting is a much better approach than a long e-mail thread. Move project discussions to a web forum or discussion board.

                    11. Adopt an e-mail prevention policy. You've probably heard Delete, Delegate, Defer, Do-It. There's nothing wrong with putting Deflect in front of these. Don't give out your e-mail address. Set up strong criteria for engagement. Push back if those criteria aren't met. (e.g. I can't process this request without your account number...) Let people know you have a backlog of e-mail and won't get to it for several days. Turn on your out of office alert even when you're in the office. Put a note in your signature setting an expectation of 24 to 48 hours (or more) for you to respond to e-mail.

                    12. If you must work with outlook (or your flavor of PIM) open do so from the Calendar view instead of the e-mail view. The calendar is your pro-active space where you have planned your non-discretionary and discretionary time. E-mail is where you are reactive. Most people leave their inbox up and then wonder why they are reactive all the time. Put yourself in a proactive context and you'll be more proactive. Plus if you're just starting out with GTD it will be a lot easier to train yourself to start trusting your system as you pull items from your task list and actually do them. If you do this you'll also never need to put a reminder on a meeting again and begin to get annoyed by people who do.

                    13. Process IN to EMPTY well before, and then again just before you do your weekly review. Try to have no more than a dozen or so e-mails unprocessed as you sit down to do the weekly review. Any more than that and your review will drag out and be unproductive. It's very important to separate processing from the weekly review. It's just not reasonable to try to do both at the same time.

                    14. Get IN EMPTY every day. If you don't it may not get Empty for a week... or a month... or worse...


                    • #11
                      I've recently started something that's helped tremendously.

                      I've set up rules that automatically route incoming e-mail into several different inboxes:


                      Everything else stays in the default inbox.

                      This helps me prioritize my time; I read e-mails from my boss and clients right away. E-mails from co-workers come next. Anything that's "fallen through the cracks" can be done at my leisure. Plus, I get a better feeling of accomplishment by emptying several smaller inboxes than trying to wade through one big inbox.

                      I also only check e-mail a few times a day. I find I get annoyed by e-mail if I'm checking it constantly, but if I only process a large amount at once and get all those inboxes empty, I resent e-mail less.


                      • #12
                        That's a good one

                        Originally posted by TesTeq
                        You can suggest that it is not necessary to open the e-mail by placing EOM at the end of such subject line. For example:

                        Subject: Can you send me the meeting agenda? EOM
                        The kinds of people who send a message with an empty message body are generally not going to be bothered with putting EOM on the subject.


                        • #13
                          Some email systems require something in the body

                          or else they require you to respond to a query.
                          So it's often easier just to pop EOM in there as well as on the subject line.

                          BTW, this forum won't let a Title (subject line) stand alone - it requires at least 10 characters in the body.

                          BTW#2 - That was a fantastic email tutorial posted by jpm.
                          Last edited by spectecGTD; 07-21-2006, 03:52 PM.


                          • #14
                            InfoSelect and GTD Email Management

                            I use InfoSelect instead of Outlook to manage email. IS allows you to organize email under what it calls "Deliveries". A Delivery is often a name (email address). IS is also a free form random information organizer. Email can be organized any way you want, and therefore can work well with GTD.

                            When email comes in, it flows right into the correct "Delivery" and then gets as "task" icon attached to it (looks like an exclaimation point in a circle). You can see which parts of your outline structure have new email in them. My system is organized into catagories with the important ones near the top. Many emails that flow into low priority catagories can be left for my processing time later in the week.

                            Spam, by definition, does not fit any of my catagories so it always appears in the non-filtered inbox. The first 15 or so emails are normally spam. I just select them, delete them, and I'm done.

                            Likewise, email from people who are not part of my current projects (and therefore are not part of my organization system) end up in the unfiltered email inbox. A quick scan, and I either drag the entire Delivery into the correct portion of my system, or I simply answer and delete.

                            Part of the power of this is that the email that can wait until processing time is colapsed into my outline. I know it's there, but it's not right in my face. On the other hand, if I am anxiously waiting for an important reply on a current project, I can keep that section expanded, and instantly see the reply when it comes in.

                            When the time comes to process email, I move from section to section. Many emails are simply scanned and done. All I do is click the "task" icon and the email is no longer marked new. It is already filed, so I'm done.

                            More important email is dealt with either by dragging it to a task area, copying it to a task area (if I want to keep a copy elsewhere in the system) or deleted. If I want an archive, I drag it to an appropriate archive area.

                            Another huge advantage is that IS has a very fast and very good search engine. I hit F5, and start typing a person's name. A graphical search grid shows all 8000 pieces of data in my database. As I type each letter, the grid gets smaller until I feel it is small enough to easily find what I am looking for. I then hit Enter, and my entire outline is shrunk down to just what I am searching for. For example, if I type the name of a project, I will see all the email, project notes, calendar items, "maybe-somedays", etc. associated with that project.

                            I love GTD because I have lots of dissimilar projects to manage on any given day. InfoSelect allows me to set up the data my way, and then rearrange it later if my needs change. I like having email included in the same system, instead of in a seperate module like Outlook does.

                            My IS data base has over 8000 items in it, and I can find just want I need, using GTD, in seconds.