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Email and Personal Productivity

written by: Marjory Pilley•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 7/13/2010

Instead of being overwhelmed by your inbox, use email to get more done. Email needs vary. In a home office, business and personal emails may even bombard you at the same time. Review these tips to check, respond and file email and apply the ones that will improve your personal productivity.

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    Check It

    It takes about 15 minutes to re-engage in a task after an interruption according to a study by Microsoft (1). So imagine the impact on productivity when you check your inbox every time it buzzes! Consider these best practices to efficiently check email:

    • Check emails at designated times during the day. The time-frame will vary by person, but generally two to three times a day is sufficient.
    • Turn off the automatic setting to check emails so you can manually download emails at the designated times or at least set the automatic-setting for an appropriate period of time.
    • Utilize a filter, available with many email programs, so you immediately receive emails that require prompt attention (such as from your boss or an important client.)
    • Schedule email review sessions during non-peak work times.
    • Use the "out of office" notification feature when you are on vacation or will be out of the office for more than a day. Provide alternate contact information, if available, to reduce the backlog of emails when you return.
    • Unsubscribe from email distributions in which you are no longer interested.
    • Make sure spam filters are set.
    • Develop a routine for checking email that coincides with your method for scheduling tasks. For example, always start at the top of your inbox and address each email in order. Respond immediately to "easy" emails. Prioritize emails that require a more detailed response. File each email as you finish with it (see tips on filing below.)
    • Use a separate email account for personal business and set-up a plan to check it during non-work hours.

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    Respond to it

    If an email stands out, easily gets a point across or prompts someone to action, then productivity will go up because the recipient is more likely to do what you ask. Consider these tips for writing an effective email:

    • Write a header that is short and lets the recipient know what the email is about.
    • Format the email for action. Start with a summary, bullet point key items and clearly identify action items.
    • Be concise. Readers are more likely to read through an email that does not include a lot of unnecessary information.
    • Carbon copy other people wisely. You will reduce the clutter in other email boxes and you will be less likely to get back an unnecessary response.
    • Create an automatic signature with contact information included so the email receiver can easily get in touch with you by phone or fax.
    • Create template wording that can be inserted with a key stroke (available with many email programs) for responses that frequently come up. Customize the response as necessary.
    • Re-read an email before you send it to avoid unnecessary follow-up later due to mistakes or unclear requests.
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    Manage email on your electronic device too!
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    File It

    An overcrowded in-box can be just as debilitating as an overcrowded desk. Save time by being able to quickly locate an email. You are also more productive when not distracted by a backlog of emails according to Len Merson, author of The Instant Productivity Toolkit (2). Email efficiency will improve with these tips:

    • Delete emails that you don't need as soon as you read them.
    • Set up your email files with the same names as your paper files.
    • After taking action with an email (i.e., responding, delegating, scheduling or combining it with other information needed for a client or task) file it immediately.
    • Set up folders for emails that are routinely received and have emails systematically filed there when received. Consider this strategy for emails that do not require action, such as a newsletter.
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    References

    1. http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/people/horvitz/CHI_2007_Iqbal_Horvitz.pdf

    2. Merson, Len. The Instant Productivity Toolkit. Sourcebooks, Inc., Naperville, IL. 2005

    For tips related to setting up email in Microsoft Outlook see Bright Hub's collection of tutorials for Microsoft Outlook.