6 Tips for Focusing the Email Chaos

Apr 01, 2014 Beth Monaghan

Last week I posted this about email on Facebook, “I should not feel this good about getting through my inbox. But I do, and I'm going to feel great about it for another 10 seconds until more messages pour in. Cheers.”

We all complain about being busy – it’s part of our culture of juggling jobs and family. Often, email plays a starring role in our whining, as it did for me. We complain about it so much that it’s become a status symbol, as Brigid Shulte has so elegantly and accurately written in her piece, “Why being too busy makes us feel so good.

So let’s talk about email. Until I become rich by inventing a solution to the onslaught, we can make our lives a bit easier by focusing the chaos. A few suggestions:

  1. Match the subject line to the content. Duh, right? Yet, we often start new discussions within old email strings. By changing the subject line to match the content of the email, those messages are instantly easier to find.
  2. Resist the urge to respond right now. It’s one thing if it’s going to take you a few days to answer a question, but if the question requires a few hours of work, wait until you have the answer. You’ll eliminate at least two emails – one from you saying you’re working on it, and another from the recipient saying “Thanks!”
  3. Save your thanks for real gratitude. A simple “thanks” email is a throwaway. It does not mean you’re honestly thankful: it’s an acknowledgement. Save your thanks for messages and people you are truly thankful for and they will convey more meaning. In fact, if it means a lot, write a real thank you note (with pen and ink). It will mean a lot since we only get junk snail mail these days. I bet you have dozens of “thanks” emails in your deleted folder. Let’s eliminate a few more by not sending them in the first place.
  4. Move tactical conversations to IM. If you’re going back and forth a lot with someone, instant messaging is faster and it doesn’t clutter your inbox.
  5. Customize emailed tweets and articles. Consider these two options for the same email subject line: “The best tech April Fools’ Day jokes of 2014" OR “Relevant for your blog post on April fools jokes." Make it easy for the person to understand the relevance within two seconds. That’s how we prioritize email.
  6. Include deadlines and actions in the subject. Your recipient is more likely to respond to a message that says “Please review this report by 2 pm today” than “April report.” The first version makes it clear that the recipient needs to do something by a specific time.

When I commit to these tips, I spend less time searching my inbox for messages because they are easier to find and organize. And yes, I’m one of those people who cannot stop until I zero out my in-box every day. It’s a compulsion, but I fall off the wagon at least five times every day.

Topics: Public Relations
Beth Monaghan

Beth is the CEO of Inkhouse, which she co-founded in 2007 and has grown into one of the top ranked agencies in the country. Beth’s been recognized as one of the Top Women in PR by PR News, the Top 25 Innovators by The Holmes Report and as an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist. Beth believes that shared values, and the freedom to create are the foundations of all meaningful work. She brings this philosophy to building a culture of creative progress at Inkhouse.

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