Take Control of Your Email at Work

Six Steps to Increase Productivity, Minimize Clutter

Take Control of Your Email at Work

By Margaret Steen, for Yahoo! HotJobs

Email makes workplace communication faster and more efficient -- but it can also be overwhelming.

Almost two-thirds of executives list email as their preferred method of communicating at work, according to an OfficeTeam survey -- a number that has almost doubled in the past decade.

"Email is front and center today," said Diane Domeyer, executive director of OfficeTeam, a division of staffing company Robert Half International. "Still, there can be too much of a good thing."

Experts offer the following tips for making email work for you.

Send Less

This doesn't mean you should forego important memos or leave people out of the loop. But you should think twice before you hit Send, especially if you're replying to everyone in a large group.

"Eighty percent of email is totally necessary," said Mike Song, CEO of Cohesive Knowledge Solutions and co-author of The Hamster Revolution: How to Manage Your Email Before It Manages You. The key is to identify and eliminate the remaining 20 percent. "A lot of people will just hit 'Reply to All' to say thank you to somebody," he says. "And sometimes that person will hit 'Reply to All' and say you're welcome. It really gets in the way of getting things done."

Set a Schedule

Turn off the "ding" sound that alerts you to incoming mail. Figure out how frequently you need to answer your email: once a day or three times a day? Then set aside time to read and reply to messages.

"It's easier to manage your email in chunks of time rather than continuously throughout the day," Domeyer said. For example, you can read and reply to email first thing in the morning, once in the middle of the day and once at the end of the day.

Use the Technology

Use a good spam filter to remove the truly unnecessary mail. Also, set up folders for low-priority messages, such as notes from your professional association. You can check these folders as often as necessary -- once every few days, for example.

Organize It

Make folders for your email so you can move messages out of your inbox once you've read them. This will make the messages in your inbox seem less overwhelming. It will also help you find messages later when you need to refer to them.

Don't Be Too Brief

It's good to make your emails as short as possible -- and especially tempting when you're typing on a BlackBerry. But if you're replying to an email that mentions several ways to handle a problem, for example, and you reply with "sounds good," you may soon receive yet another email, asking which solution you think sounds good.

Know When Not to Email

There are times when talking to someone, either in person or on the phone, is the better option. "If you have a difficult or challenging situation to resolve, better to do that in person," Domeyer said. "You'll find it to be more efficient and much more likely to be resolved in a satisfactory manner."