If you were talking face to face with a client or a colleague and they asked you a question – which you completely ignored – I think we all agree this would be considered extremely rude.

So – Can you honestly look me in the eye and say that you have never ‘forgotten’ to respond to an email that deserved or required a response?  If this can happen to you then you are a ‘rude’ email manager.

Now I am not talking about spam or unsolicited emails. They can and should be ignored. I am talking about emails from the people that work in your office, your colleagues, people from your interstate office,  about a client, about a problem client, about emails from friends and even family.
Do you have an email management process in place? Do you have a plan on how you manage email communication? You need one, and they can be extremely simple.
A couple of questions/facts that identify an email offender:

1. More than say 2 days emails in your inbox at any one time.  If you have 1000 emails there is absolutely no way you know what is in your inbox. You can no longer be sure if you have dealt with each email.

2. Do you read an email and then think I will deal with that later?  How can you be 100% sure you get back to responding?

3. Do you use Auto assign functions that move emails to specific folders?  e.g. all emails coming to ‘support’ go into a special folder?  I would bet a weeks salary that you rarely look in these folders. What if you were copied on an email that went to support and required direct action from you? You only look in this folder once a week and can not possibly read them all at that point – so this never gets actioned.

4. Do you read your email while you are deeply involved in other tasks?  You will forget to respond to an email later on.

I rely very heavily on email to do my job – so getting this right is critical. Living on the bottom side of the world and being 12 hrs removed from most of the people I work with – email management is critical. I am a long way form perfect and if I have ever ignored an email from you I apologize right now – unreservedly! Here are a couple of things than can move you from the Rude to the Polite email category.

1. Your inbox is not a filing cabinet. Treat your inbox as an old fashioned in tray for things that need to be done. If it is in your in tray then it has not been actioned and is a job waiting to be done. Does anyone still have an in tray? I remember in my first job as an accountant this is where all the paperwork requiring processing was placed. Most of that internal paperwork and those incoming letters through regular post have been replaced by email.
2. Use just a few folders to file away useful emails you may need to reference later. I have a file called “Microsoft”, another called “Clients”, one called Personal and another called “eOne Team”.   When I read an email there are only a few possible actions available to me.

  • Read it and Respond Immediately.  Then move the original to a folder for reference/or delete it.
  • If it does not require a response but will be useful later – move it to a folder
  • Delete it (Junk, unsolicited emails, jokes, any other email that I do not need to reference later.)

3. Close Outlook. Open it only when you want to read email.  When you open it:

  • Sort by Subject first. This lets you see all emails in a chain so you can action only the last message. Then move or delete them as a group.
  • Quickly delete obvious junk, and unsubscribe to anything you do not need coming to your inbox.
  • Aim for an empty inbox. You can achieve it and it gives you a great feeling when you fall asleep at night.
  • Sometimes you can not respond just yet and need to seek info or input from others. This remains in your inbox as an outstanding thing to be done. Like a to do list.

4. Send yourself emails. I do this all the time. I do not keep a ‘to do’ list but when I think of something that needs to be done – I send myself an email. It is then in my tray so remains as something that needs doing. Emails from myself are no less or more important than things tasks that come in externally. I prioritise in the normal way.

5. Never ignore. It is better to respond saying “I am really busy, and will get to this in 3 weeks” than to ignore it. or “I need some help in answering this – it may take a few weeks”.

That’s it. Do not over complicate it. Email is a brilliant and an essential tool that must work for you and not against you.

In addition to the above – turn off email on your Smart Phone. No one needs to read email all of the time. You just don’t. If it is urgent they will call you – a novel idea!  I have a friend who is a CEO of a reasonably sized firm you recently gave his Blackberry away and intentionally purchased a phone with NO email capability. Brilliant. Does he need to read emails when he is at his daughters birthday party, or out for a few drinks with friends after work? No. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who starts reading emails on their phone while you are speaking? Save your emails for those times of the day you set aside for reading emails.

For those of you who work at eOne – there will be some email management audits coming shortly.