Like many people, I spend a lot of time in my inbox.
In many respects, it's a necessary evil given that e-mail is a key part of how I operate my consulting business, communicate with existing and potential clients, and get notifications about relevant or important content.
That said, I spend way too much time using and check e-mail. And I don't think I'm alone in my obsession, judging by the frequent laments expressed on websites and blogs, as well as by the armies of people walking around with their heads down while they check their smart phones for new messages.
So, as much as e-mail is a wonderful tool, it is also a time sucker and a productivity killer, particular relevant to time-strapped entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Everyone recognizes this as a painful reality but most of us continue to use e-mail in the same ways, rather than change our behaviour. In other words, we have good intentions to be better with e-mail but don't have the discipline to do so.
For anyone looking for guidance on how to be better with e-mail, it might be worthwhile to spend some time exploring the Email Charter, which was recently unveiled by Chris Anderson, curator of the popular TED Conference.
The Email Charter offers 10 recommendations that make a lot of sense without forcing people to commit themselves to unattainable goals, such as having an inbox with no messages in it.
Instead, the Email Charter is focused on helping people use e-mail in different, smarter and more productive ways that takes less time and effort. In other words, it provides a no-brainer approach that us e-mail junkies should embrace.
Some of the Email Charter rules that personally resonate personally include:
Respect recipients' time
Rather than sending e-mail messages to people at night or weekends, for example, schedule them to appear during business hours. This achieves a couple of goals. First, it respects the fact that people have personal lives that should not be interrupted with email unless they are important. Second, it eliminates the notion that if you send someone an e-mail during off-hours, they have an obligation to respond. This is a vicious circle that we feed rather than manage.
Keep e-mail tight and concise
Email should not be a forum for long discourses; it's a place to quickly send information and content. If you want to provide a lot of thought, a telephone call is a much better medium.
Not every e-mail requires a response
How many times have you received an e-mail back from someone simply acknowledging receipt? A related rule is that "Reply all" doesn't have to be used for every e-mail conversation.
As difficult as it might be not to check e-mail, the reality is that your inbox is not going anywhere. Your messages will patiently wait for you, whether an hour from now, three hours from now or, heaven forbid, tomorrow. Not checking every 15 minutes is a simple way to boost your focus and productivity.
Do you have any tips to make your e-mail habits more productive or efficient? Are there techniques or tools that make it easier to tackle the inbox monster?
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.
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