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Does email help or harm productivity in the workplace?

It has the potential to do both, and it’s up to you make it work for you instead of against you.

If you have ever taken a vacation or a weekend away from work email, only to come back to an inbox flooded with new messages, you probably understand how quickly it can get out of control and how time-consuming it can be to catch up on correspondences. Take charge of your email habits so that your email is a helpful tool instead of a nuisance that distracts you from more important priorities.

Increase Personal Effectiveness With Email Habits

1. Don’t be a slave to your email.

Be honest: how many times an hour do you check your email? If you are one of the many people who receives automatic notifications every time a new message comes in (from Outlook or Entourage, for example) or constantly refreshes a web browser tab open to Gmail or Hotmail, you may be distracting yourself unnecessarily. Set a schedule for checking your mail, ideally no more than once or twice an hour.

2. Create a system that works for you.

If your current system is to answer every email as soon as you receive it, your personal effectiveness is probably suffering. Set up an organized, easy-to-use system that helps you categorize your messages into a few different categories. For example, you may create folders, labels  or color coding for the following categories: personal, time-sensitive or priority, FYI, follow up later and archive. When you check your new messages, file them in the appropriate section so you know how to approach them. If you can take care of an email with a quick response in about a minute, go ahead and do it now.

3. Be brief.

Emails don’t need to be novels (in fact, they are more likely to be read and understood if they are short and concise). Stick to the core message you are trying to communicate, and edit out everything else. It will take you less time to write and respond to emails, and your colleagues will be grateful.

4. Unsubscribe.

The next time you have a long list of unread emails, look for repeat offenders. Are you subscribed to newsletters, listservs, groups or other notifications that you rarely open or read (even though you keep telling yourself you are going to start)? Click “unsubscribe” and cut down on your inbox clutter.

5. Consolidate email accounts.

If you have old email accounts you no longer use, save or forward messages you need, then deactivate the account. If you have a hard time juggling multiple email accounts, you can easily consolidate them all in one email inbox through Gmail. Once you do the initial setup, Gmail will fetch mail from different external servers, and you only have to check one inbox.

What email tricks do you use to increase your personal effectiveness at work?

Get more information on how the Increasing Personal Effectiveness course can improve your work life.

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