Friday, June 26, 2015

Taming that email beast

Sometimes I wish Cookie Monster would eat all my large attachments. Image courtesy of
Email.  It might as well be a four-lettered word.  Email can absolutely consume our professional and personal lives.  You can finish a day and wonder "Wow, I spent all day answering email, and yet I feel like I got nothing done."

Especially if you work on a staff, email is probably the bane of your existence.  And yet, it shouldn't be.  Email should be a great enabler, letting you get in contact with people around the world and quickly share text and other attachments.  Yet the Navy has morphed email into a monster that consumes our time and energy into a never-ending vortex of declining productivity.

How do you tame this monster?  Luckily the good folks at Manager Tools have a few answers in a recent news post:

1. Use rules to manage the incoming emails and only look at the ones that are important.  You don’t need to see a note from HR about changes in the payroll system in 3 months on a day when your project deadline is under threat.

2. Your inbox is not your task list.  I don’t know how many times I’ve said this to people who say ‘I keep that email there so that I’ll remember to do x’.  You need a task list, because your email isn’t the only place from which work is coming in.  If you get stuff on the phone or your boss gives you a task in person, you have nowhere to put it if you don’t have a task list.

3. Use a follow up folder make sure a response comes back if you need one.  Don’t leave the email in your inbox.  Put it in a follow up folder, and then make looking at that folder once a day part of your routine.

4. Use templates and canned responses.  They get you through your email more quickly, meaning you can move on to real work.

5. Take an hour to really think about your email and how you’re using it.  Clean up and implement the rules you need, create the folders you need.  Every system decays.  An hour every 6 months will keep your system in tip top condition.

It's always urgent, unless you setup rules to help you. Image from
Number 1 is extremely important.  I get bombarded with ~30 emails a day on each system I'm on, and I know others that get much more.  A lot of them are regularly posted products that I want to see, but only when I have time.  Managing rules on incoming emails helps you sort them into folders.  It helps you quickly determine what can wait and what must be done now (I flag boss emails in red).  Don't know how to setup rules?  Go here.

Number 2 becomes evident when you manage more than 10 people.  You need a consolidated task list, preferably shared with your people, to keep track of things.  Otherwise, you will forget something and slip into the perpetual "flop/twitch" mode when you can only respond to the "closest alligator to the canoe."  Your system administrator can create a shared task list on Outlook, or you can create one on IntelShare (an Intelink product) and sync it with Outlook.

Number 5 is also key.  If your structure doesn't work, fix it!  I remember spending part of a weekend watch setting up folders and cleaning my inbox.  The next week was great, I was on top of everything and had set myself up for success.  Even an hour once every two weeks is enough to get organized and stay ahead of the game.

I do two additional things as well:

- I regularly go through and delete emails older than 6 months.  If there are attachments I want, I save them to my Inteldocs folder.  If I need to save it, I try to put it in an archive and save that to Inteldocs as well.  This helps keep me below the inbox limit and makes my profile login a lot faster.

- I limit attachments.  If it's over 2 MB, I put the attachment on Inteldocs or Intelshare and send the link.  I have seen people totally crush email limits and slow down an entire office with massive attachments.

Seriously, if you aren't using the cloud, you're so 1995. Image courtesy of
Make email work for you, not the other way around!