Are you tired of searching for email messages that you just know are...somewhere? Is your electronic In Box full of outdated messages? Do you frequently get ultimatums from your IS department to "clean up your act"?

Love it or hate it (or both), email is increasingly becoming the primary method for communicating in today's digital world, both at work and at home. But here is an interesting statistic: research shows that introducing email into a company increases printing by 40 percent!

The truth is, sometimes paper is highly practical. For example, complex proposals often require meetings for discussion, and both during and in preparation for those meetings you likely will need a printed copy so you can take physical notes.

On the other hand, printing out everything is not likely a good solution. The key to managing email is determining when to keep hard copy and when to keep electronic copy. In some situations, keeping both may be practical. In the case described above, the printed version has value for discussion, and the electronic version has value for creating new versions after the discussion. In either event, following the principles below will improve communication and increase productivity.

Five Tips for Sending Email Your Recipients Will Love:  

1. Use a Clear "Subject" Line.

Make sure the text you type into your "Subject" line clearly describes the topic of your email. This is helpful for the recipient--and for you, when you scroll back three months from now looking for that message and needing to identify it among hundreds of others purely by the "Subject" line!  

2. Use a Word-Processor.

For a lengthy or complicated email, create the text of your message in your word processing program, then copy to your email. If you have an email glitch during the sending process, you can easily retrieve your message.  

3. Streamline Threads.

When replying to any email, attach enough of the old message for the recipient to remember the content of the original email, but delete unnecessary information or duplication. Lengthy "threads" and needless repetitions of prior correspondence can add reams of unnecessary and distracting communication baggage.  

4. Practice Non-Attachment.

Avoid sending email attachments whenever possible. Receivers are becoming more reluctant to open attachments due to the increasing prevalence of viruses. In some instances, you may want to attach a document and also include the text of the document in the body of the email, with the explanation that the attachment will have better formatting.  

5. Use a Contact Manager.

Nothing is more time-consuming than retyping people's email addresses each time you correspond--or more inefficient. Consider using your contact management software (such as ACT!) to send all your outgoing email. With many programs, you can attach your outgoing email messages to the recipients, and other related contacts, and they will automatically appear in the Out Box of your email program.



Five Tips for Managing Your Incoming Email:  

1. Use Folders.

To avoid an overflowing email In Box, create folders. For example, you might have folders for each of your reports, for each project, for a committee, and for subjects of particular interest.  

2. Fat is Phat.

Whenever you open your incoming email, apply the FAT system to each item, one at a time, the moment you open it: F stands for File, A for Act and T for Toss. Don't let yourself pass an item by without choosing one of those three!

3. Deletion is Good for the Soul.

If you aren't sure you need it, toss it! Unlike a paper wastebasket, you can always retrieve email from an un-emptied electronic trash or "deleted items" folder by using the Find Message feature available in most email programs.

4. The Two-Do Rule.

Whenever possible, apply the "Two-Do Rule": If you can reply in two minutes, then do it right away. It will take longer to file it and retrieve it again later, so why not do it now?

5. Organized Procrastination.

For email that takes more time to reply, either leave them in Inbox or file in an appropriate folder, such as "Action" or "Reply."


Following these ten simple tips will make your email easier to manage. Managing your emails before they get out of hand can save you time and money, increase your productivity--and increase your peace of mind!


BARBARA HEMPHILL is best-selling author of the Kiplinger book series Taming the Paper Tiger and Love It or Lose It and is a past president of the National Association of Professional Organizers.