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While it may seem that e-mail’s pre-eminence as a digital communications medium is waning as other, more "sexy" Internet applications grab the limelight, the truth is that e-mail is still the stalwart of business communication, and it’s likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
E-mail’s near instant delivery, the ability to send messages to groups of recipients simultaneously, and the ability to seamlessly attach business documents, files and photos has resulted in a highly flexible, incredibly valuable business tool. There are now, arguably, more effective ways to do all of those things — but when you consider the way that e-mail combines them into a single application that is practically ubiquitous throughout the business world, and you begin to see that it will be some time before real time collaboration and social media usurpers topple the king of business communication from its throne.
While e-mail is, undeniably, a great asset to business, keeping your corporate inbox under control can be a challenge, and dealing with incoming e-mail inefficiently can be an enormous time waster.
A survey of global members by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) revealed that people generally believe that they receive too much e-mail, send too much e-mail and that the time they spend dealing with unimportant e-mail every day has a detrimental affect on their productivity.
Over 80% of respondents admitted that they constantly monitor their incoming e-mail throughout the working day, 40% indicated they spent at least two hours in a typical working day responding to e-mail , and over a third said they spend 3 hours or more doing so.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of constantly monitoring, sorting and replying to a never-ending stream of e-mail, and unless you take control of your electronic inbox, before long you’ll realist that it’s actually controlling you.
Take control of your inbox
- Make a positive start: try and avoid checking your e-mail as soon as you arrive at your desk in the morning. Pick something more productive to work on first — achieve something tangible before firing up your e-mail client. Making a productive start to the day will help you to maintain your focus throughout the day.
- A time and a place: constant monitoring: of e-mail is a major distraction. Instead of listening for the "ding-dong" tone of a new message landing in your inbox, try checking it three or four times a day at prescribed times. Set aside designated periods for dealing with e-mail, and stick to them. Not only will you be less distracted, you’ll find that when you do deal with your incoming mail you do so in a more focussed and productive manner.
- Use your tools: most e-mail software comes with a series built in filters that can automatically block unwanted mail and sort the mail you do want into specific folders for you. Most of your regular e-mail can be auto-magically sorted in this way, leaving your inbox less cluttered (if you’re not sure about using filters ask your IT department or a tech-savvy colleague for help).
- Only answer if necessary: before hitting reply, consider whether a response is really necessary. Will your message contribute something positive, or simply clog up someone else’s inbox, probably prompting another unnecessary reply in return?
- Reply to the right people: if you absolutely must reply to an e-mail, steer clear of the "Reply to All" option, which will copy your response to every recipient of the original e-mail . Unless that’s absolutely necessary, simply send your reply to the sender, and spare everyone elses inbox an unnecessary message.