Are e-mail gremlins trying to ruin your career?

How many times throughout the day do you find that you're spending more time tending to your e-mail than actually getting your daily work done?  Lately I've found that I’m spread too thin across many tasks and that e-mail has turned into an anti-productivity tool.  Here are a few tips for reclaiming your precious time. 

Turn off notifications

Normally,  I see the little outlook message notification in my toolbar or the preview notice window, hear the evil little new message chime or my cell phone  beeping to kindly remind me that I'm not giving it enough attention.  This happens to me about 300 times each day.  I know that I'm not special and there are many of you out there that see these even more frequently.  I recommend turning these reminders off completely, which will ensure that during times when you're being productive you aren't continually distracted with issues that will pull you off task. 

Set pre-defined times for reading e-mails

After you've turned off the notifications you should set one or more specific times during the day to jump into your preferred e-mail client and begin knocking away at all of those little electronic monsters.  During these times, your goal should be to pick off the easy ones.  If the message only requires a few lines of response then don't hesitate shoot back a response and get it out of your inbox. 

If you prefer phone contact setup an auto-responder

Many people still prefer to use phone as their primary form of contact.  If you happen to be one of these people then it might be a good idea for you to setup an auto-responder in your e-mail client letting people know that it might take a while for you to get back to them via e-mail, but they can quickly contact you by phone.  Doing this will help them immediately understand your preferences.  This will help to ensure that they don’t get upset while having to wait for your response. 

Don’t use email as instant messenger / text messaging

It may be perfectly reasonable to assume that you can send one of your IM buddies a message that says "plz git meh sum coffeee", but how would you feed if a prospective employer or customer was to read it?  There are many e-mails I've seen that have glaring spelling issues or poor grammar.  While it is mildly annoying to me, there are some people that actually take offence to e-mails where it is obvious that the writer did not care enough about the content to spend a few extra seconds doing a spelling and grammar check on their e-mail.   

If you’re asking a question, place it first and add supporting details afterward

Following this simple rule will not only make things easier for the recipients of your e-mails, but it will ensure that your questions are answered promptly.  Simply start your e-mail with the questions you have and add any supporting information afterward.     

Keep on topic

Many times it is very difficult to try to find a certain topic or block of text in my e-mail box.  You can make this easier by keeping the subjects of your replies up to date.  If the subject of the e-mail is no longer relevant to the body you should update the subject of the message.    

Take another look before you send

I love email. It's much less intrusive than a phone call and faster than a letter. It may be your introduction to someone you never met before. Take your time putting together a well-written message. Once you hit the send button you won't have another chance.