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6 Tips for More Efficient Email

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Email can be a great time-saver or a huge drain on your productivity...or, more than likely, alternate between both extremes. However, for the telecommuter and most other professionals today, email is essential. These email tips can help you tame that inbox and make email the time-saver we’d all like it to be.

1. Organize your email efficiently.

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Take the time to set up efficient systems for email organization. Sort your email into folders that make sense for you. Put some time into considering how to set up these folders. Too many or too few folders detract from the efficiency you’re trying to create. Make use of the features that let you mark emails as important or as junk.

Use an email client so that email coming to different email addresses can be read in one place. These things all take time to set up and to maintain but will save you time in the end.

Read more about email organization.

2. Write better email.

An email that is vaguely written will most likely generate questions--rather than answers--in reply. Replying and clarifying to questions takes time, so be sure that the email you send is succinct and clearly states what you would like the reader to do.

Use bullet points and frequent paragraph breaks to help your reader pull out the important points. Remember that your reader too would probably like to spend less time on email and may only skim your message.

Read more about how to write effective email.

3. Avoid spam.

Be sure to have a good spam filter but make an effort to stop spam before it starts. Do not post your email address on the web and be selective about whom you give it to. Use a free email address for outfits that are likely send spam. One of my favorite email tips is to use folders for that “quasi-spam” email. For example, JCPenney and Staples frequently send coupons via email. I sort these into a “Coupon” folder that I only look at when I plan to go shopping. This technique is good for newsletters that you may want to refer to at a later time, but don’t always have time to read when they arrive.

I put my time more into filtering unwanted emails than hitting that unsubscribe link often found at the bottom of emails because, although some more reputable companies will remove you, others won’t, and the amount of time you spend going through the unsubscribe process would be better spent fine tuning your email filters.

Read more about avoiding spam.

4. Manage your email time wisely.

The thing about email that is both good and bad is that it is so immediate. You can get things accomplished quickly via email, but it can also demand your time and take you off task. Don’t let your email box be the driver of your day.

Make a time management plan for email and stick with it. Perhaps, you will only check email at certain times of the day. Or, maybe you will check your email all day but only respond to urgent matters immediately and mark others for action during a later time set aside for email.

Also be careful that you give individual emails only the amount of time they deserve. Do not spend 20 minutes composing an email on a relatively unimportant matter.

Use technology to find the time to put these email tips into practice. For instance, while you are waiting on something (i.e., kids’ activities, doctor’s office, etc.) using your phone to delete spam, mark important emails for later or make quick replies.

Read more about email time management.

5. Scan your whole email inbox before replying.

I know that it is tempting to simply start at the last email you read and work your way through, replying as you go. However, if you do that, you run the risk of wasting your time and other’s by replying to an email in which others on the tread have already resolved the matter.

To avoid this, you may want to display messages as threads so that all of the responses to an email are displayed under the original. However, it may not be practical to keep your email displayed this way because new messages under old threads can get lost, but when you first look at your email, this can be helpful. Also, if you have a good system of folder set up, seeing the full chain of emails and replies at one glance will be easier.

6. Pick up the phone.

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Sometimes going back and forth by email is simply not efficient. Learn to recognize these times and simply pick up the phone. When an idea is complicated or you have multiple, interrelated questions, a phone call is probably the way to go.

Read more about when not to use email.

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