Want to Save Time Managing Email? Three Email Efficiency Tips

Clinops toolkit tips for email management
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When it comes to techie tips and time-savers, I’m a junkie.  Hopefully there is something new for everyone in this weekly series or at least one special “Ah ha, so that is how you do it” when it for Outlook, Excel, Word, Acrobat, etc.

Special thanks to Google, my colleagues, and the exasperated IT guys over the years who have all contributed to expanding my geeky knowledgebase.


“I Feel Like I Spent My Entire Day on Email”

We’re all getting a lot of email, too much, right?  I have at least eight separate email accounts. I log into most of them several times a day, from various different types of devices. It is more than a little out of control. Not one of my email accounts is perfectly organized but I have been able to try a lot of different platforms and organization systems. While I recognize there is a huge opportunity for me to consolidate down to just 1 business and 1 or 2 personal email accounts, today I will try just to transfer some of my philosophy on email management best practices.

3 Best Practices and Tips you Can Implement Now

Reading – Touch it once.

When I review email I use the reading pane so I can scan my emails without even having to open them until I am ready to process them. I do prioritize my unread emails but I’ll save more on that topic for a future post. Upon opening an email I either delete it, answer it, mark it unread, and/or tag it.  I tag with categories and flags so I can search them easier later (more on this later in a future post about best practices for quickly searching your email).

Once the email is unread, I do not go back to it so it is important that I process it when I open it. I try to avoid reading the same email over and over without taking action. If for any reason I am unable to address it then I mark it unread and it has to be processed again; It is much more efficient just to “touch it once” instead.  This method takes a lot of practice but give it a whirl.  I’m not insisting that you process every email upon receipt, but I do believe that processing things more than once is inefficient. Read it and take the appropriate action so you only have to touch it once.

Writing – Brevity is Key.

Be brief when responding to an email or your pet may protest

Be brief when responding to an email or your pet may protest

Do you even have to send a response?  Many of my emails come from my co-workers in the same office.  Since they are just a few cubes away, I often opt just to just walk down the hall and make a real connection instead.

If an email response truly is warranted focus on making it scannable. Especially for internal emails, I include screenshots, bulleted lists, indentations, colors, and other paragraph formatting. I’m not trying to introduce complexity, but I do want to provide responses that are scannable and clear.

I also use response templates to frame up my message or include a fragment that I find myself writing over-and-over.  Check out quickparts in Outlook, a huge time-saving feature.

I’ve seen other people bcc themselves on important messages.  I have never done this but once a week I do review my sent folder just to check for emails that need to go in my pending file. This is a good sanity check for me but I realize it is inefficient so I’m working on it now. I’m thinking I should start bccing myself on emails I am sending but want in my pending folder.  This way when those messages ping back to my inbox I could have an auto-filter or rule to flag them and send them right into my pending folder.  How good does that sound?  I think I’ll try this method in August.

Filing – Stop.

There was a time when we were more constrained by the capacity of our hard-drive, the size of our servers, and other technological limits. This time was not so long ago and our computers were really not so fast. At that time, we needed to delete or archive emails. We had to store them in lots of folders and sub-folders because the processing power needed to display or search thousands of emails would cripple our machines. Luckily, that is not the time we live in now.

We now have advanced searching algorithms, rapid processing, and plentiful storage (although still not unlimited) has become more scalable and affordable than ever.  I’m not advocating that you keep things you will never reference again but I am advocating that you STOP FILING.

filing email wastes your time

Filing and processing emails is not part of my job description and yet I have spent so much time unnecessarily organizing my email.

At work I have only a limited number of folders and every email is automatically being indexed by rules, quick-steps, and category tags: Inbox, Sent, Drafts, Pending, Project 1, Project 2, G&A, Archive. I can probably discuss my folder structure and the specific outlook tools of tagging quick-steps, and automated rules more in a future post.

Stop. Seriously, I have to recommend that you take the time you would have invested in creating folder hierarchies, clicking and dragging, and fumbling to find old emails and instead use that time to watch a few YouTube or Microsoft training videos on how to use advanced email search techniques.

Years ago I had a much more complex hierarchical system but once I started leaving most things in the inbox it was in a word…liberating.  I work on several projects and I only file emails in a project folder if the project is taking LESS than 50% of my time. If I am spending up to half my week on a certain project, those emails can stay in the inbox.  I’ll likely need to reference them and I want to be able to find them on first-pass of a search.

Your Best Email Management Tip?

I’m constantly evaluating the ideal method to process my inbox.  I never want to miss important correspondence and I’d love to hear your tips (try this email address or leave a comment below).  Email is a tool that helps me do my job, collaborate with others, organize my to-do list, and archive the clinical record of conduct. When I save old emails (and know how to quickly search them) I can easily keep track of decisions and issues.

Email is a vital part of how I stay connected with my business partners, peers, friends and family. I need to be timely when I deal with my email but I do not need to deal with email with all of my time.

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About The Author


Nadia Bracken, lead contributor to the Lead CRA blog and the ClinOps Toolkit blog, is a Clinical Program Manager in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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