Emails are a necessity in the modern workplace. They allow us to communicate with colleagues who are out of the office, send files to co-workers who need them, and summarise the most important results of meetings. While incredibly useful, it can be easy for some workers to go overboard and start flooding other people with emails that eventually get in the way of work being completed.
Thankfully, if you start just a few good habits today, you can stay productive throughout the week and avoid being bogged down in emails (or doing the same to your colleagues). Here are the five questions you should ask yourself to keep your emails efficient:
Is Your Email on Topic?
Whether you’re asking something of a colleague or you have questions about a task you’ve been given, all of your emails need to be concise and on topic. Try to keep your replies short and simple, so that they can be understood with a quick scan. Remember that your email may be one of many someone has to get through, so the simpler the better!
This extends to your subject line too. Make sure it has the key aspect of your discussion included in it so the message can be found quickly if someone uses the search function in their email provider. Emails that are easy to find are much more likely to be responded to.
Is Your Inbox Organised?
Your email inbox probably isn’t very high on your list of day-to-day priorities, but taking a short amount of time to get things organised can save you a lot of hassle in the future. Create folders for specific departments or projects you’re working on. That way, if you need to reference something in the future (in a presentation or review, for example) you can simply click on the folder you need.
Set rules for emails from specific addresses or those that contain keywords in their subject line to be automatically placed in certain folders. This will prevent having to scroll through a wealth of unsorted mail (a common task when you return from a holiday or sick leave) as everything’s already where it should be.
Are You Staying on Top of Version Control?
Email back-and-forth is common in the workplace, and while this allows a written record of everything to be kept, it can sometimes get in the way when several people are collaborating on a single project. This is particularly true when documents become attached, edited, and new versions sent around. Things can easily get out of hand and leave you at risk of working with the old draft of a document.
When possible, set up a Google Drive or Dropbox folder that contains the document you’re collaborating on. Co-workers will be able to make edits or leave their suggestions without your inbox becoming clogged with ‘.1/.2/.3’ version numbers. This way, you only need to send two emails – one with a link to the document you’re working on and one to confirm the document is finished.
Should You Send Your Email Right Away?
When you receive an email about a pressing issue, you may feel obligated to respond right away. However, this isn’t always possible if you can’t answer a colleague’s question or don’t have the information you need to hand, so take some time before replying. You may be able to ask someone else for help with the matter, meaning you can reply with one single, informative email rather than sending several small updates.
If email back-and-forth starts to become an issue, consider spending dedicated time without checking your inbox. You may receive multiple questions, tasks, or briefs over the course of a day and they can easily start cutting into each other’s time. When things start to look cluttered, identify tasks that you can complete quickly and get this work done before checking your emails again.
Do You Need to Send an Email?
This is the simplest way to increase your email efficiency. For an urgent matter, it may be better if you make a call and discuss things with a co-worker. If you’re informally suggesting changes to a project, try to speak with them face-to-face. A five-minute conversation is a lot quicker than a five-message email trail with both respondents only replying when they’re free from other work.
This will also mean you can take a break away from your desk, with is always encouraged over the course of a busy work day. If you have multiple people to reply to, note down everyone you need to speak to and a single-line summary of what they need from you. Then it’s simply a matter of moving from person to person when they’re free and before you know it, your inbox is empty again.
Got any tips for staying on top of inbox clutter? Let us know on Twitter at @viking_chat.