While email is an invaluable tool, it often seems to run our lives. The amount of time it takes to manage email has quadrupled since it was introduced, says Isolde O’Neill, president of Getting It Together Organizing in Toronto.
“Not only do we get more of it but we have to cross-check it on different platforms,” she says. “Most people have a laptop, a desktop, a tablet and a smartphone, and we often have multiple email addresses, so it’s easy to miss something. That can be incredibly stress-provoking.”
O’Neill notes that effective email management is essential for financial advisors, because you must retain records of sent and received communications and documents related to client transactions. Moreover, in the event of an investigation, you must be able to produce all relevant information quickly.
With that in mind, below are some suggestions to help you get your email under control:
> Check your email at set times only
Many of us reflexively check our in-boxes the moment we’re notified of new email. If you’re focused on a task when you take that break, you lose four minutes of productive time, says Jane Veldhoven, president of Get Organized! Professional Services in Halifax. “That’s how long it takes to fully recover from being interrupted by an email,” she says.
A more efficient strategy is to check your emails at set times each day—for example, first thing in the morning, at lunch and before going home. You’re more likely to read, prioritize and respond to them that way, says Veldhoven, who also recommends disabling your email notification. Otherwise, the temptation to look may prove too great.
> Sort your mail
Sift through your inbox messages, O’Neill suggests, getting rid of those you know you don’t want, and placing those you want to save in labelled folders. Place those you are not sure about in a file marked “Archive.”
Make sure your email filing categories are the same as those in your computer’s filing system, for example, by client, fund, etc. That makes it easy to cross-reference and find information quickly. Avoid creating too many categories, though, as that will just complicate things.
O’Neill also says she never deletes a sent email. “I save them forever; otherwise, they can come back to haunt you.”
> Control the flow
If you’re overwhelmed with junk email, review the contents of your inbox and unsubscribe from as many e-newsletters, updates and social media alerts as possible.
Bob Pozen, a lecturer at the Harvard Business School and author of Extreme Productivity, says you can reduce the volume of email you receive by sending fewer emails, and sending emails to fewer people. Avoid one-word messages, such as “Thanks,” and don’t hit “reply all” unless it’s really necessary.
> Follow the thread
An IBM Research study suggested that one effective way to keep your email inbox tidy is to keep your conversations in existing threads; it’s an automatic mechanism for grouping a conversation.
> You’re the boss
The best system for managing your email is the one that works for you.
Veldhoven says that when she started out, the rule of thumb was that you should empty your inbox daily.
“Today that’s not realistic,” she says. “Besides, everyone has a different tolerance level for email. Some people are okay with 100 messages in their inbox, others can tolerate a lot more. There’s no right or wrong answer, as long as you can find information quickly when you need it.”