No matter what business we’re in, most of us are swamped by emails, not to mention texts and instant messages. We’re always fighting to stay afloat against the rising flood waters. Yet it often seems that the more messages we answer, or the faster we reply,– the worse it gets.
I’ve been analyzing email use since the 1980s. Our increased accessibility from technology was first seen as a tremendous advantage, but it’s now a daily deluge. Through my research and the research of others, I’ve found that there are some things we all can do to handle all those messages more efficiently.
1. Triage. The most important thing is triage. We’ve all probably lost important emails because they simply scrolled off our screens as more emails arrived, becoming buried and forgotten. To prevent this from happening, categorize emails as they appear into at least three categories: “low-hanging fruit,” “to do list,” and “very important.” Try to deal with the low-hanging fruit messages immediately. They are the ones that can be quickly answered and removed from the in box. The ones for the “to do” list need a reply too, but they’ll take more time and should be saved under that category. The very important messages should stay in your main in box so that every time you look at your screen you are reminded of those items. It’s also helpful to flag those important messages as a high priority. The goal is never to leave work with emails scrolling off your screen. You should be able to see the contents of your inbox on a single screen.
Read the full post at Forbes.
JoAnne Yates is the Sloan Distinguished Professor of Management and a Professor of Managerial Communication and Work and Organization Studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management.