A practical guide to managing business emails

A practical guide to managing business emails

The subject line reads urgent, must reply right now … so you drop everything and respond to that email, and then another. Soon it is lunchtime and you haven’t even started writing that new proposal.

Sound familiar? If your email inbox is constantly overflowing and you feel pressured to respond quickly, you are not alone. Many professionals struggle with email demands.

To be at your best, you need to take control of your inbox. Here’s how:

Set a reasonable response time

Develop a plan that works for you and your co-workers, customers, friends and family. Then stick to it. If you’ve allowed yourself to be characterized as a quick responder, implement this gradually so it’s not jarring to your recipients.  

Unless it’s a life-or-death situation, an irate customer or you’re under deadline, 24 hours is a perfectly acceptable response rate for any email. For a text, four hours is reasonable.

Schedule dedicated digital communication blocks

Schedule an hour three times a day to tackle non-urgent emails and texts. It’s okay to let emails and texts pile up. When you do read each message, act on it immediately whenever possible. Respond, file, forward or delete. Withholding action wastes time.

Model appropriate email behavior

This is one of the easiest ways leaders can boost office productivity and reduce internal tension. Follow these guidelines and encourage your coworkers to do the same.

  • Turn off email notifications.
  • Only reply to messages when you have the time to craft a proper response.
  • Use actionable subject lines.
  • Limit your emails to one call-to-action per message.
  • Never reply with “Thanks” or “OK”.  This does nothing to advance the conversation.

An unnecessary email that simply clogs up someone’s inbox isn’t helpful. To avoid being the victim of one-liner emails, feel free to add “no reply necessary” at the top of an email if you don’t anticipate a response.

Focus on safety

Never text, email or use social media while driving. To reduce temptation, put your phone in the glove box so you won’t feel compelled to check it. Or force yourself to pull over every time you receive a message. The time drain will make the glove box seem like the better choice.

Before you act . . .

Instead of being known as someone who replies fast, develop a reputation as that person who sends helpful, thoughtful and actionable replies. It’s an enviable quality befitting a leader.

Melissa DeLayRead all author posts

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