TechLines: Five Ways To Improve Email At Work

If you didn't catch today's TechLines panel session, you can rewatch it at your leisure. If you want to take some practical steps to improve your use of email, here's five suggestions raised by the panel which you can try in your own workplace.

5. Take an email-free day

Electing not to use email for a whole day can be a good means of exposing when it's essential, and where other communications mediums can be more effective. It's not necessarily a good idea during a crucial period (such as end-of-month), but if you can pick a day to ignore email altogether and work on other projects, you might be surprised how much of what happens there doesn't actually matter if you ignore it.

4. Think about whether a phone call would be better

A common complaint about email is that it isn't always the most efficient tool in a particular situation. For requests with some urgency and a likely a simple yes/no answer, making a phone call could prove much more effective. The same rule applies to any medium: choose appropriately, rather than just choosing what seems easiest for you at the time.

3. Walk around the block before sending angry email

It's a familiar theme, but one always worth reiterating: that harsh, angry email you've worked on so hard may seem irrelevant or embarrassing in 24 hours. Taking time out before sending it, even if it's just to walk around the block, can save you potential hassle and bad feelings.

2. Don't be afraid to respond to email while sitting on the toilet

Yes, half of you have gone "gross" right there. But if dealing with some emails during what would otherwise be down time helps you save time for other work tasks — or for not getting involved in work outside specified hours — then frankly it's worth considering. Video calls remain an obvious no-no.

1. Organise email the way that works for you

A recurring theme throughout the discussion was the need to recognise that not everyone uses all communications mediums equally effectively, and that the tactics used to keep email and other collaborative communications vary from person to person. If you work best with a huge unsorted inbox and a fast search facility, that's fine - but don't judge the person who prefers filing email in folders, or works better when communicating via IM. Email isn't the task itself; it's a tool to get other tasks done, and there's nearly always more than one way to skin a cat.


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