By Nina Zipkin
Managing email can be a chore. It can steal time from more important tasks and even dull your brain. A University of London study found that those who constantly check their e-mail could see an IQ drop of 10 points, a steeper drop than from smoking pot. Not only that, some estimate businesses can lose $650 billion dollars annually thanks to unnecessary inbox clutter. So what can you do to prevent this loss of time, money and brain power? Here are 11 strategies to win back control.
Take short cuts
Write templated responses that can be easily updated to streamline the reply process. Google Labs, for example, even offers an option called “Canned Responses.” To create canned responses that work for you, think ‘will someone ask me this question again’ when you write any email. Some productivity experts even save these as signatures that they can access while at the office or on the road.
Write better subject lines
Add a verb to your subject line – confirm, discuss, review – to better help your recipient understand what they need to do. This tactic will help spur action and keep you on target when you write. Make sure it’s search-friendly. Ask yourself: Does this subject line have the key words you’ll need to find it easily in the future?
Keep it simple
Productivity expert Jason Womack suggests you keep emails to one topic. He says people respond only when they have answers to all the questions they’ve been asked so a simpler email can ensure a faster response.
The magic five sentence-email
An effective e-mail will answer these questions – Who are you? What do you want? Why are you asking? Why should I help? What’s next? If you can, try and keep your notes to five sentences or even three or four. Limiting yourself will help you focus on what’s important.
Designate a time
Turn off your alerts so you see how much you get done when you aren’t constantly reviewing your inbox. And set a timer. Experts recommend you check email just 2-4 times a day, reading email for only 45 minutes a session.
Need to track your follow up? Consider BCC-ing yourself on those emails and then moving them to a folder labeled “Follow up.” Check just this folder instead of your inbox to stay on top of the work you need to complete so you don’t get distracted.
Text, chat or call instead
When a discussion leads to more than two emails, pick up the phone or get on chat. Give your number to point people you trust to relay urgent messages, especially if you’re out of the office.
Train your colleagues
If a conversation is settled, write “no reply needed” to prevent more emails in your box. Stress that staffers shouldn’t feel the need to reply to mail when they can’t best answer a question.
Reply only when needed and don’t deal first with non-urgent e-mails. And don’t reply if the ‘ask’ isn’t clear. You shouldn’t waste time trying to understand a request that wasn’t well thought out to begin with.
Unsubscribe from unwanted newsletters, direct others to specific folders automatically and move anything you don’t need immediately to an archive. Use tools like Google calendar to schedule meetings, eliminating the need for endless “when are you free” email chains.
Keep only two types of emails in your inbox: Those you haven’t read yet and those you need right away. Once you’ve pared down your inbox, you can focus only on the messages pertinent to what you’re working on now.