Improve your email efficiency: 10 tips

Billions of email messages are sent each day, but one study estimates that the average employee wastes more than 40 minutes a day on worthless email. That doesn’t even include the jokes your friends and family forward and the unnecessary messages your colleagues copy to everyone in the office.

Here’s how you can trim the time you spend on email:

Let the computer do the work

1. Create an automatic signature (or more than one) to end your messages. (Look under Tools, Options, Mail Format.) Basic information might include your name, organization, phone number and fax number. You also can use this feature to include short messages, such as: “On Oct. 1 we will move to new offices at … .”

2. Automatically capture new contacts. Right-click on an address in an email, choose “Add to Contacts,” and it will create a new contact and fill in the information such as the name and email address.

3. Create distribution lists for groups of people to whom you email often. For example, all of the employees in your department could be in your Sales distribution list. To create one from your Inbox, go to File and New, then Distribution list.

4. Write a rule that sends emails on which you are only a “cc” recipient to a folder you check less frequently, and ask to be removed from distribution lists when possible.

5. If you can’t rid yourself of the fear that you’ll need an email as soon as you delete it, create a holding file to briefly retain such messages. (The fact that you never do need to retrieve anything from there should encourage you to just delete those messages in the future.)

Get back to basics

6. Turn off the automatic notification of new messages. (In Outlook, go to Tools, Options, Preferences, E-mail Options, Advanced E-mail Options.) Checking too frequently wastes time. Once or twice a day might be enough.

7. Create separate accounts. Use one account, the one on your business card, for general purposes. Use the second account like an unlisted phone number that you give only to very important people. That’s the account you should check often. Finally, have one account that you use in public areas that might attract spam.

8. Set a policy for whom should receive copies of emails, and enforce it. “Need to know” isn’t the same as “might be nice to know at some point in the future, but I’m not sure why right now.”

9. Follow your office’s document management policies for deleting, archiving and backing up files. Retaining too many messages makes it harder for you to manage them and takes up system resources. (Attorneys also know that they are a great place to look for damaging evidence in the event of a lawsuit.)

10. Fill in the “To:” line last. That eliminates the danger of accidentally sending a message before you are ready.