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Technology: Smart Ways to Use Email

This is the first in a series of articles to help you use email more effectively in less time.

  • Some things should still be written down.
    Keep a copy of critically important contacts, calendar events, and documents in case your computer crashes or you don't have access to the email system. We are not suggesting that you print every message you get! But make sure you'll still be able to contact the pediatrician or plumber you need in an emergency.
  • Don't leave your email application open all day long.
    Open your email to check, review, or send messages, then quit the application. This will improve responsiveness of your computer for other tasks, reduce strain on the servers, and boost your productivity.
  • Check email at defined times each day.
    Why allow arrival of an email message to interrupt you when you're trying to get something useful done? Close your email application and only check email two or three times a day. Let people know that if they need to reach you instantly, email isn't the way.
    – read more at Harvard Business School Working Knowledge for Business Leaders, http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/4438.html
  • When writing a message
    • Enter a short, descriptive subject. Messages without subjects can be mistaken for spam.
    • Write polite and brief messages. Email messages do not include the author's expression or other contextual clues humans rely upon in normal conversation, so meanings and intent are frequently misinterpreted. Keep that in mind when writing messages; sometimes a better solution would be to simply pick up the phone instead.
    • Carefully select recipients. In general, it is usually best to include only those individuals who are involved in the discussion. Copying others 'to keep them informed' often just clutters up someone else's inbox – rather than copying them, keep them informed by writing a brief summary and send it as a separate message.
    • Avoid the Reply to All button. Unless the entire recipient list is awaiting a response from you, send any response directly to the sender by using Reply instead.
  • Use the Inbox to review new messages.
    Experts suggest you use the inbox to review new arrivals, and then take action on each message.
    • Immediate–Respond to a new message if it will take less than two minutes, then either move the original message to a Storage folder (if you need to keep it for future reference) or Delete it.
    • Delete–Messages you don't need should be deleted immediately. Whether it is a piece of spam or an announcement you've already read and will never need again, delete it immediately.
    • Follow Up–Messages that take longer to deal with often clog up your inbox, items you need to check back on or are not able to provide an immediate response. You may want to create a Follow-Up folder and move messages awaiting future action into this folder. This will help keep your inbox clear and provide an easy way to keep track of items that need future attention.
    • Storage–Messages you need to keep for future reference should be filed away. You can create one storage folder for everything, or create several topic-related folders.
  • Delete items you don't need and Empty the Trash.
    Just like closets at home, there is a limited amount of storage space in the email system—we simply cannot keep everything! After you delete items, you must also empty the trash:
    • Click the Empty Deleted Items button.
    • Better yet, set your email application preferences to do it automatically.
  • Never store messages you need in a Deleted Items or Trash folder!
    Items that need to be saved should be kept in a storage folder; items you don't need should be deleted. Keeping things in Deleted Items puts them at risk and prevents you from actually deleting things you don't need.

 September 21, 2009