By Mario Pistilli
I suspect that email is as overwhelming at your institution as it is in mine. Email has become the go-to medium of communication and can be a significant time commitment in a day. I for one do not want my job to just be writing and answering emails all day. Out of frustration over the amount of time I spent in a day on emails, I have employed some strategies to conquer my inbox and stay at the mythical inbox zero on a daily basis (and yes I receive triple digit emails daily). I am by no means the email expert, and some may disagree with my strategies, but these have worked wonders for me.
Only check your inbox and devote certain times each day to email. I handle email only three times a day, first thing in the morning, lunchtime, and end-of-day. I have my notifications turned off and my outlook closed so I am not tempted to get sidetracked by an incoming email. If there is something really urgent my team knows how to contact of me outside of email.
When you can, unsubscribe. When you can’t unsubscribe, but do not really need to read these regular emails then create a rule. You can right click a message and there is a choice for “Rules” and then “Create Rule.” Using this strategy you can mark an email complete and auto move it to a created folder for later use. I have these rules created, for example, to handle routine reports or data that I may not need real time, but want to have access to when needed. You can also set a rule to auto delete emails from internal bulk mailing lists that are not needed.
I am a big fan of organizing my emails into files. You can create folders in Outlook to organize your inbox.
Use the task bar to mark important emails that you need to follow up on later. Just click the little flag next to the email and it gets listed on your task list. This allows you to find that email no matter which folder you put it in. This also ensures that you do not forget to handle it later if it gets lost in your sea of inbox messages.
Have a strategy for taking some type of action the first time you open an email. I used to find myself rereading the same emails over and over, because I did not just do something with them the first time. If it can be deleted then just delete it. If it is just informational and no reply or action needed, then move it right away to its proper folder. If it just warrants a quick simple reply, just do that. If it needs something else that you cannot provide then flag it as a task that you will come back to later when you have what you need.
I really want to be responsive and make sure that others see me as accessible and having good follow-up. There are plenty of times that you cannot respond to an email timely during your three times a day email routine. For those times, I always send a reply immediately so that I acknowledge having read it. I also set the task flag to ensure I do not drop the ball. You can set your task on when you expect to achieve it. I always set it for a couple days earlier then I say I will respond. So if I say that I will get back to you in 5 days, I flag to complete it in 3 days. I usually reply with one of four responses:
- Thank you for including me in this discussion, I will follow up with you in about X amount of time.
- Hello, I read your email and I am coming up on a deadline for a project. I would like to respond in about X days once I have finished up that project. If this creates any issues for you then please let me know.
- Hello, I would like to run this by my colleague who is currently out of the office and returning [insert a timeframe].
- Thank you for the email, this is a very important issue and I would like to give it the thought and attention it deserves. I will follow up with you in about X amount of time.
In addition to working my inbox three times a day, I also work my task list three times a day to ensure that I am following through on my commitments. If I have something tasked and still cannot answer then I send a courtesy email explaining whatever is preventing me from answering (still waiting on other replies, waiting on data, etc).
Utilizing these strategies, I am always at inbox zero at the end of the day. Everyone has gotten some type of reply promptly that needs it and I can get way more done in a day by not getting sidetracked into emails.
Mario Pistilli, CRA, MBA, FACHE, FAHRA, is administrative director for imaging and imaging research at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. He is an active member and volunteers time for ACHE and HFMA organizations. He is currently serving on the AHRA national Board of Directors. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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