E-mail can swiftly get out of hand for anyone in a company, and project managers have an even harder time keeping it under control. IT information, HR policy changes, social gathering notices, marketing information and more quickly piles up. The average employee ends up having to read a medium-length novel worth of internal communications every month.
Project managers, who have more responsibility, can easily find themselves buried under all the cross-communication going on through e-mail. Important and urgent messages get buried in the flood, and it eats up hours every day sorting through it all and responding where necessary. It’s a great idea to cut back on the e-mail and deal with information overload, but how do you go about it? Here are a few great ideas for handling the flow of e-mail.
1. Establish your E-mail Preferences
As a project manager, you can control to an extent how you like your e-mail. Specifically, you can make it known when to e-mail you and, more importantly, when to not. Many project managers feel the need to tell everyone working under them to keep them aware. They want to be CCed on everything. Unfortunately, this results in a wave of e-mail every day, most of which is unimportant.
Making your preferences clear helps cut back on this e-mail. You don’t need to be copied into every e-mail conversation happening in the office. It’s just as easy to trust your team to come to you when they need something, and otherwise keep their conversations to themselves. Just make sure they know what you need to know, and what you don’t.
2. Choose you Audience Carefully
Even within your team, not everyone needs to know the information you’re sending. Don’t automatically CC every message you send to your whole team, or even your whole company. Think carefully about who you’re sending your messages to and who might be sending you comments back. Even if your team won’t be opening the messages, it looks unprofessional to see half an inbox full of unopened e-mails.
Building your own e-mail habits won’t directly cut down on the e-mails flooding in to your inbox. It does help encourage others in your team and company to monitor their own e-mail habits more directly.
3. Carefully Compose your E-mails
A large number of e-mail messages the typical project manager gets are questions. Each time you send out an important e-mail, someone will respond back asking for clarification on some point or another. For example, if a meeting is canceled, you send you an e-mail saying so. If you pause for a moment before hitting send, you have an opportunity to cut back on incoming messages. Someone will probably ask why the meeting was canceled, and most of the team will want to know when the meeting will be rescheduled. If you include those two points of information, you preemptively eliminate a dozen or more messages in your inbox.
4. Carefully Format your E-mails
Just like it’s important to consider the content of your e-mails, it’s important to consider the format. If you send out frequent e-mails with important content, you may want to create a template to fill out. This helps you draft the e-mail faster, and it helps you remember every salient point you need to include each time.
For e-mails that don’t need a template, you should still format them appropriately. If you notice, most content on the web has a standard sort of formatting. Webmasters use the combination of subheadings, bold and other formatting just to increase readability. This is because the average reader does a lot of scanning and much less reading. Format your e-mails for maximum clarity to decrease the number of questions you get in return.
5. Make sure E-mail is the Right Choice
Every bit of information has an appropriate way to deliver it. For some, it may be easiest to send out a mass e-mail to your entire team. For others, a quick phone call may suffice. A personal note or memo on paper could work for other bits of information, while a single more detailed e-mail to a specific person could work for some other messages.
It also helps to make yourself available by means other than e-mail. Maybe you can use a smartphone for texting. Maybe you have a social media account set up that you can make use of. Phone calls offer faster responses and an immediate question and answer session of necessary. In short, e-mail isn’t always the best option.
6. Avoid Using E-mail for Group Discussions
When the Internet was new, e-mail was a great way to host large group discussions without the necessity of gathering everyone in one place for a meeting or hooking up a conference call. Today, technology has improved to such an extent that e-mail discussions are inefficient and less useful than ever. Many software suites allow group discussion.
Even if you can’t set up specific software for everyone on your network or in your team, it might be worth the time to set up an internal or external discussion forum. Free forums are easy to set up and secure from unwanted intrusion. They are far from ideal for sensitive company information, but they work well for less important discussions that would otherwise clog up your e-mail with replay-all messages.
7. Keep Up to Date with E-mail
You’ll never be able to cut your e-mail down completely, nor should you want to. It is still a valuable communication tool. With these tips, you’ll be able to cut back on the number of incoming messages significantly. You’ll also be able to handle the e-mail you do have much more effectively. Set up filters to sort incoming messages into categories automatically. Get rid of any old newsletters, group discussions and other mailing lists you may be a part of but no longer need. The less superfluous e-mails come into your inbox, the less time each day you have to use to deal with them.