While it may not be lumped on your desk in an unsightly pile like its paper counterpart, e-mail can become just as overwhelming if you don't learn how to control it.
According to Linda Lamb, co-author of Using Email Effectively (O'Reilly & Associates), most businesspeople get far more e-mail messages than are necessary. Often, your employees must wade through tons of messages that aren't even pertinent to them because the sender, inadvertently or on purpose, copied the message to them. By allowing practices like this to continue, contends Lamb, you're promoting habits that waste your employees' time and lower their productivity.
"The key is a combination of setting expectations for what you want to [accomplish] with
e-mail and encouraging people to practice good e-mail etiquette," she says.
Establishing company guidelines detailing how e-mail should be used is key to putting a stop to any extraneous e-mail. It's best to set up specific groups of users so that employees can target information to the proper areas of the company. Also, try to encourage employees to write message headers that are specific and easily understood so people know at first glance whether they need to read further. Finally, Lamb insists, you must put a stop to employees posting personal messages to the entire company.
To manage your own e-mail efficiently, get to know your delete key. If you read the top header and decide you're not interested in the mail, don't be afraid to delete it without opening it. Place messages you want to save for later in separate folders so you can easily retrieve them.
Above all, if you need to discuss something personal or controversial, pick up the telephone and speak with the person directly rather than sending an e-mail message, advises Lamb. Otherwise, you're likely to set off a series of vicious e-mail attacks that can get out of hand.