By Gerard den Hertog
July 16, 2009
Every professional knows the problem: e-mail is an essential and critical communication tool in getting the job done, but too many e-mails becomes rapidly counter-productive, is negatively impacting work efficiency and increasing work related stress.
These days, the amount of e-mails has exploded to a level where almost everybody is experiencing the negative side of this communication tool.
Unfortunately, current e-mail clients are not ready to cope efficiently with the daily avalanche of e-mails and leave the burden to deal effectively with the overflowing inbox entirely with the user.
The magnitude of the problem makes it essential for every professional to take some time to think about ways to minimize e-mail related workload.
Here is how this can be done.
The problem of too many e-mails comes in part from our use of the e-mail communication tool itself. Everybody complains about receiving too many e-mails - hardly anyone complains about sending too many e-mails. And yet, that’s where a large part of the problem lies. With the ease of e-mail, we tend to use it just too often and we fall back almost exclusively to this form of communication, neglecting maybe more efficient means of communication.
Interestingly enough, studies show a clear correlation between number of sent items and number of received items. Therefore, to receive less we have to send less. Being far more critical in the number of e-mails sent out will result in fewer e-mails in the inbox.
Following guidelines will help to reduce the number of e-mails in our communication:
1) Make balanced use of all available communication channels - use telephone and personal contact next to e-mails.
2) Avoid discussions or emotions to be communicated through e-mails. E-mail is not suited for this type of communication.
3) Limit yourself only to necessary and relevant e-mails - don’t reply when not absolutely necessary.
4) When something is urgent, use telephone or personal contact rather than relying on e-mail.
As a second step an efficient workflow is essential to deal efficiently with the stream of incoming e-mails.
As a simple rule: deal with every message in the inbox only once.
Either act on it immediately or move it out of the inbox for further work (e.g., onto a To Do list). When done consistently, the inbox will be empty afterwards.
Now, not the inbox but the To Do list will be the working area. This helps to focus on the work at hand and not being distracted by new e-mails coming in.
Finally, deal with the inbox 2-3 times per day. E-mail is an indirect communication channel so there is no need to respond immediately to incoming e-mails. Only deal with new e-mails when it best fits your work routine.
To maximize efficiency it is important to embed these principles in the e-mail client and to rely on available technology to minimize e-mail related activities.
Unfortunately, it is widely recognized that the outdated model of “Inbox - Sent items - Folder system” is not really suited to implement an efficient workflow. Therefore, to be really successful in minimizing e-mail workload, additional technology is needed.
As example, we will show how NEO Pro of Caelo Software can save you valuable time each day:
– NEO Pro comes with automated e-mail organization. Using NEO’s virtual folder system, there is no need to maintain a complex folder system. A single folder as archive for the inbox can be managed through Outlook’s auto-archiving functionality while NEO Pro is providing the e-mail organization through its automatic virtual folder structure like Correspondent, Category, Date, Attachment, and so on.
– NEO Pro’s Bulk Mail feature provides an automatic system to keep less relevant e-mails out of the inbox; an important step in reducing number of e-mails in the inbox. These less relevant e-mails can be dealt with later (if at all).
– NEO comes with default To Do and Follow Up capabilities. Automatic workflow options enable seamless integration of the desired workflow in the User Interface.
This way, combining Outlook with NEO Pro can save most users at least one-half hour per day.
It can be concluded that a well-thought combination of communication principles, improved workflow and integration in the available e-mail tools can go a long way in reducing e-mail overload and minimize e-mail related workload.
Time saved on e-mails is directly beneficial to your business and clients.
Gerard den Hertog is managing director of Caelo Software BV. Caelo Software develops e-mail organizing software to truly help people deal with e-mail overload. He can be reached at [email protected].