Last week's column, Email Tricks Save Two Working Weeks A Year generated over 75 contest entries. When asking 'what your biggest email problem' was to enter the contest, I didn't expect so many long and elaborate answers. I have been chipping away at answering every email that I can with a solution or two to the problems, but I thought this column should be dedicated to the biggest problem of all - and what I consider to be the best email tip - ever.
As you would expect, the top conundrum is the mind-battering organisation and workflow problems resulting from receiving too many emails.
If you suffer from the above, even a little bit, may I highlight something very few know - or if they do - use well. And that is the fact that every single one of us has our very own private inbox secretary. Just waiting to prioritise your emails. Answer them. Forward or delete them. Put them in folders. A combination of several actions too.
Depending on the volume of email you handle per day, the time- as well as frustration savings when you have to hunt and peck for emails - can be enormous.
When used throughout the company and in conjunction with websites and call centres, the accumulated increase in productivity, improvement in customer response and service and even sales can be extraordinary.
Your Inbox secretary is simply my name for the Rules / filter function in your email program.
When setting a Rule, it will ask for an answer to five questions:
1. Would you like me to look at the emails you are receiving or sending?
2. What would you like me to look for? In example, a word in the subject line or the body. Where your name is (in the To or CC). Look for a level of importance, an email address. Even a piece of an email address!
3. When I see it - what shall I do? File it in what folder, answer it with what. Delete it. Forward it to whom?
4. Are there any exceptions to this rule?
5. When we turn this rule on, do you want me to run it through your inbox too? (great for all you pilers out there - those with hundreds or thousands of emails in your main inbox. You can use this to start creating order.)
Having outlined what and how a rule works for you, it means nothing until you cleverly apply it to solve business problems. Here are a few ways I see this little email function having a dramatic impact for you:
1. Have repetitive emails go straight to folders.
Items such as newsletters, rsvp's, mail delivery errors, out of office, voting, meeting acceptances, personal email.
2. Junk mail
Rules create another level of filtering for spam and junk mail by searching for words like V1agra; presidents daughter, the domain Nigeria. If your IT department sends screened emails to staff with the word spam added to the subject line, a rule can move it to a folder.
3.Mitigate high CC and BCC volume
Often these are not germane, or the most important item in an inbox. Having them corralled into a cc folder helps prioritise one's attention to more important items.
4.Delay sending out email.
How many times have you forgot to 'attach' before hitting the send button? You can create a rule that delays the actual physical sending of the emails of a period of time like 5 or 10 minutes.
5. Employee out sick or on vacation
A rule can forward emails that need actioning to someone else automatically
6.EA's multiple inboxes
Rules are of great benefit to Executive and Personal assistants, especially when working for several managers. They can create folders for each manager and have items such as travel, work to do, cc's sorted for them automatically.
7. Standardise in-house in subject lines.
FYI / FYA - for your information or action. Rules can then sort these out.
8. Web response / call centres
Can benefit greatly from the clever utilisation of rules.
a.Scan incoming emails for words or specific email addresses and automatically forwarding to the correct person, sent to a folder to show importance
b.An automatic response can be triggered - one in general or specific answers to questions again based on the words.
c. Having management copied into the emails to ensure staff are responding in a timely manner
The bottom line is by cleverly looking for repetitive email patterns and recognising which have low or high priority you can pay attention to the right email at the right time and significantly remove manual handling of many incoming emails. Translation. Less time. Less stress. Quicker response.
I'm giving away one free copy of my new book Conquer Your Email Overload weekly this month. To be in to win, simply email me email@example.com naming your top email problem. By the way the book can be purchased at any bookstore or from my website www.successis.co.nz