The barrage of e-mails overwhelming our in-boxes only gets worse. But don’t despair. Dwight Moore, an industrial psychologist based in Blaine, Wash., says there are ways to stop e-mail from swamping your workday.
In an essay in Taking Control of Your Time, one of the “Results-Driven Manager” guides from Harvard Business School Press, Moore suggests these four simple steps to message control:
- Begin your day differently: Don’t jump to your e-mail first thing in the morning. Instead, start the day with a blank piece of paper or a blank screen. Write down a strategic goal and develop an operational plan to tackle what needs to be done first or next. Allocate a block of uninterrupted time to work on this goal.
- Reply to e-mails at the end of the day: You’re tired then and eager to get home. This means you’ll be better at focusing on the important ones and keeping your responses short. Besides, fewer people will be able to respond immediately.
- Teach people how to send you e-mails: One executive decided to respond to every e-mail for a week with a note on its appropriateness. He coded his responses as follows: a “1” meant “Keep sending this sort of critical information”; a “2” meant “Unless I’m on this team, don’t send me this information”; a “3” meant “Send this to the responsible person on my staff, not me”; and so on. His e-mail load dropped precipitously.
- Use better alternatives whenever possible: Make a point of relying on face-to-face meetings, not e-mail messages, for anything that involves ambiguity, interaction or emotion. Technology is only a tool, and it shouldn’t determine how we make decisions and manage our time.