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Spotlight on Productivity:
How to Overcome E-mail Overload

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by e-mail? Have you ever spent more of your day wading through your e-mail than managing your work? Are you looking for ways to spend less time creating, managing and answering messages? Discover how to overcome e-mail overload and be more productive by writing more effective e-mail messages and reducing the volume of e-mail.

Write Effective E-mail Messages

Start improving your e-mail effectiveness by creating and formatting easy to follow content, and by using pre‑written responses.

Create Clear Content

Consider these strategies to upgrade your communications with understandable, e-mail messages:

  • Help others prioritize how to act on your e-mail by including a clear, specific subject line and repeating important subject information in the body of the message.

  • Define your expectations in the body of the message. Do you want your recipients to act, respond, read, or is the e-mail FYI only?

  • Include only one topic per message. If that isn't possible, then describe and number multiple topics as in 5 items to add to the Wednesday meeting agenda.

  • When you type the addresses for your message, check who is getting your e-mail. Many programs attempt to auto-fill an e-mail address which may not be your intended recipient.

  • Be careful with your tone and language. As with any other communication, match the message to your audience. Unless the reader understands your dry sense of humor, for instance, they may be confused or offended rather than amused.

  • It may be tempting to use acronyms in the world of the Blackberry and IM (instant messaging), but only use extremely common abbreviations, such as FYI or ASAP, unless you are absolutely certain that the individual receiving your e-mail knows what they mean.

  • Clearly identify yourself to strangers within your message and in the message signature.

Format Readable E-mail Messages

Simplify the e-mail messages you send with clean, easy-to-read formatting:

  • Get to the point. Shorten paragraphs to no more than five or six lines to reduce reading.

  • Limit e-mail text to a single printed page. If you have more text, reduce the message or consider attaching a Word document. Delete previous responses that are no longer relevant to the current exchange.

  • Use fonts between 10 and 12 points in size except for headlines and choose a font style that is easy to read. Apply colors sparingly.

  • Add blank lines and white space to separate paragraphs and areas of detail.

  • Run the spelling checker and re-read messages one last time for clarity and grammar before clicking Send.

Use Prewritten Responses

If you send a few basic messages over and over again, such as a reply to a request for product information, consider saving those responses as signatures that can be inserted into e-mail so that you don't have to retype them.

For a majority of messages, create a default signature that includes your full name, position or title, phone, website, and other contact information.
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Reduce the Volume of E-mail

Some of the top ways to cut the amount of e-mail you receive is to manage the number of messages that you send, actively reduce unnecessary follow-up replies, and determine when person-to-person communication is a better choice.

Decrease the Number of Messages You Send

Before you write your next e-mail, seek to actively reduce how much e-mail you send:

  • Read all replies on a topic before responding to the original message. Resist getting involved with e-mail threads that don't impact your objectives.

  • Don’t send, and discourage your staff from sending, "chime-in" messages that are simply unimportant responses such as "Thank you" and "You're welcome." Don't respond to junk mail.

  • Avoid Reply to All unless all recipients need to see your response. Otherwise you are contributing to their e-mail litter.

  • Use the Cc (carbon copy) line only when the topic impacts the recipient's work. Although it may seem easier to send a message to everyone in a department or your organization, first ask yourself, "Who needs to know? Why?" Most people who get a carbon copy assume there is something they are supposed to do.

  • Use Bcc (blind carbon copy) to hide large distribution lists or to disguise the names of select recipients. All recipients can respond to a message but replies will not be received by anyone in the Bcc list which reduces the amount of e-mail they get.

Eliminate the Clutter in Your E-mail

In addition to initiating fewer e-mail messages, look at other ways to reduce the messages in your Inbox:

  • Publish frequently requested information on your organization website and make sure that the website is quickly updated when changes occur.

  • When you are sending out informational messages that do not require feedback, discourage unnecessary responses by using formal language and begin and end messages with No Reply Needed or FYI Only.

  • Unsubscribe to electronic newsletters that you don’t read and move others out of your Inbox to folders for reading during travel or other down times. Don't unsubscribe to mailings that you never initiated or you may further open the flow of junk mail.

  • If it's an available option, setup an out of office message that responds to incoming messages when you are not available to answer your e-mail. Clearly state your response time, when you will return, and who can be contacted during your absence.

Choose Voice Instead of E-mail

There are often times when phone or face-to-face conversations are a superior choice to e‑mail. Pick up the phone or arrange a meeting when:

  • Building rapport is critical.

  • The topic is emotionally charged.

  • There are many intertwined issues to resolve or there is a need for lengthy interactive discussions.
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Implementing these strategies for overcoming e-mail overload can help you become more productive and free you from your Inbox.

Note: this article has been published as a multiple-page magazine feature but is also available as a multi-part series.

© Dawn Bjork Buzbee, MCT, The Software Pro®

Dawn Bjork Buzbee is The Software Pro® and a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) as well as a certified Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) Master Instructor, certified Microsoft Applications Specialist (MCAS) Instructor, and a certified Microsoft Office expert. Dawn shares smart and easy ways to effectively use software through her work as a software speaker, trainer, consultant, and author of 8 books.

This article and more can be reprinted at no charge in your publications and website with copyright and attribution.
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Don't send "chime-in" messages that are simply unimportant responses such as "Thank you" and "You're welcome." Don't respond to junk mail.
 
Did You Know?
Use Bcc (blind carbon copy) in e-mail messages to hide large distribution lists or to disguise the names of select recipients. All recipients can respond to a message but replies will not be received by anyone in the Bcc list which reduces the amount of e-mail they get.
 
 
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