I find this question: “Did you get my email?” baffling. It’s now 2019, and for as long as I’ve been a professional, email has been something I count on working correctly unless our IT staff tells us there’s a glitch. By that I mean, if you click “send” and my email address is in the “to” line, then my response can only be “Yes, I got your email.” This is a particular pet peeve of mine because my track record with responding to emails within 24 hours (faster of course for things that have sooner deadlines or that are urgent) is pretty darn good. If it wasn’t, then sure it makes sense for someone to walk down the hall less than 2 hours after emailing me to ask “Did you get my email?”
Constantly checking email reduces productivity. I’ve implemented a number of self-management parameters to keep myself from constantly looking at my inbox. Below are a few, and if you’re interested, I’m happy to share more:
- I check my email for the first time each day about 10 minutes before my first meeting of the day (more often than not that’s at 9 or 10am). My boss’s email account is set as a VIP in my email app, so I start most days by opening my ipad once at work to check my alerts. If nothing shows up from him, I move on to the top tasks or projects I want to tackle for the day, before my meetings begin.
- I then check my email again after lunch. I try not to schedule meetings between 1-1:30 because I like to take a full hour for lunch to recharge (as an introvert this mid-day break is important for maintaining my effectiveness). After lunch is a bit of a slump time for me. I can find it hard to dig into a big project during that time, and so I focus on my administrative tasks, which email often is.
- Most of my afternoons are filled with meetings, and so I check my email again sometime around 4pm, and if not, then definitely before I leave at 5pm. By checking at the end of the day, I can see what tasks I might need to tackle the next day, and more importantly what my people need from me to do their work.
You may have noticed that the list above doesn’t talk about when I respond to email. I prioritize my emails to be sure I’m not getting in the way of others and what they need to get done. Below is how I try to manage my inbox and replies:
- As I said above, responding to my boss is a top priority to me. No matter where I’ve sat on the organizational chart in my career, that strategy hasn’t changed. As an administrator, I appreciate it when my direct reports respond quickly, especially if what I’ve asked for is informational and not process related (asking them to do something). Those quick responses help me to keep going with that I’m trying to do, and I imagine the same is true for my boss.
- I then read those emails that seem from the subject line to require some kind of action on my part. I consider there to be two main kinds of action: doing something and thinking about something. I tend to do the doing things first, because I like to give myself time to think about things as needed. Replying to the thinking emails take me the longest to respond to- 24-48 hours.
- The final tier for me are emails that are telling me information that I either didn’t ask for and/or don’t need to take action on.
From what I can tell it’s the things I need to think about or information I don’t need to take action on that seems to result in the question: “Did you get my email?” I try to be honest and explain that I haven’t read it, or I have read it and need to give the message some thought. There are times when that question speaks to a larger problem, the root of which isn’t the message itself, but a broader workflow issue. I discuss that in Part II of this post.
What are some of your email management strategies?