I used to work at a company where everything was handled via email and I sent on average 40-50 emails per day and now I send 3-4 daily. From meetings, to tasks to managing files, everything was done via my email client. Breaking a circle as strong as that was extremely difficult. The corporate culture there was very fond of handling it all via email and anything to break that pattern had too much opposition from employees and managers within.
I am not lying to you when I tell you that I saw fellow co-workers with 200 folders of emails stored in them or they kept every email, even if it was a procedure for the cleaning lady to follow and the amount of emails they kept were well above 50,000 emails. 50,000 emails, for what? 200 folders to choose from in order to filter something? Come on.The problem with said mentality is that you are more on your toes about having a clean Inbox than do tasks that aren’t related to email at all, which tend to be far more important or are expected out of you to make. This is why I consider email a very unproductive means to communicate for Web designers. I think it’s far more productive you read articles related to Web design via Twitter – Facebook – Digg – RSS than to reading the CC’s or BCC’s your co-workers throw at you or filtering/answering/cleaning emails all day long.
At the end of the day what’s the balance? Got some work done and learned new techniques or you were able to keep for the n-the consecutive day your email Inbox clean and fully inspected?
Email is a way to communicate
This is the key concept. Communicate. You communicate something when you receive a call over the phone, send a SMS or write an email. Email is to communicate. Having said this, are you recording your phone conversations and moving them through 30 folders on your computer “just in case”? Same thing with SMS messages; are you downloading them to your computer, filtering them? No. Then why email yes? Email isn’t to be maintained, filtered or having a homemade database for too long. You scan store them, sure but let the time to store each be the same time you spend deleting a text message or hanging up the phone. Quick and instant.
For the record I would like to say that you shouldn’t send or receive any emails during your workday. Far from it. All I’m saying is that there shouldn’t be this obsession for cleaning your Inbox, filter them, or answering emails as soon as they come in because you start working for your email client as opposed of the other way around and you tend to ignore the tasks you have ahead (regardless of being a Web designer or not).
Each email is an issue, just the same as each call being about an issue too. It’s within our judgment to determine the urgency of it (which is why I rarely look at the importance flag or even worse, think that because someone says URGENT in the subject it actually is).
Ways of getting rid of emails
These are the ways I spend the least amount of time possible with my email client:
- Check automatically for emails every 4 hours: on a normal workday that would be checking your email three times a day. There are people (used to be one of them) who check it every 5 minutes. Remember we should perform tasks, not checking emails, specially every 5 minutes. What’s so important that you need to check your email every 5 minutes? It means that you can only perform tasks in 5 minute intervals because if there is an email you interrupt what you are doing in order to attend your emails. You make tasks even more difficult to accomplish or even worse, half assed.
- Filter quickly when I read them and answer the ones I consider important only, and the rest remain there: that’s the key here, it’s what I consider as important or has a higher priority. Everything else can wait. If a site goes down or a DB crashes nobody is going to email me; they are going to call me. What I don’t consider as urgent I just leave it there and I answer it eventually. They are issues that can wait.
- You need a handful of folders, few in fact to filter your email: I have maximum 5-6 folders, one is the Inbox, Sent Items, Deleted Items, Invoices and a folder called “Others”; when I answer an email, what I sent plus the original message I responded to is in Sent Items, so I no longer need the one in my Inbox, thus it gets deleted. I only move around those that are either bills or are stuff I consider important that doesn’t require me to answer them. Many people keep them all, and I have to ask why if when you reply to one the original copy is below your response? By answering it, it goes straight in to Sent Items and the email is filtered and if you later on need a reference to it, all you gotta do is search for it on your Sent Items folder and sort by name, date, subject, whichever.
- I take one day of the week to answer/review the emails I left hanging in my Inbox and clean/filter what is either done, answered or have no relevance whatsoever. It can be in a moment where you are burnt out due to working on Photoshop all day, writing, coding, whichever task it took you all day to do. But note how I have listed tasks that aren’t relevant to emails, but tasks that you gotta do to get the job done.
If the company is too big, consider having a Project Management Tool, which helps you with tasks and recording time taken on each and every one of them. They are tools that are designed specifically for that. Emails weren’t.