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Keep Your Inbox from Running Your Workday

Published on November 30, 2018

Before you hit reply, read this: A recent survey found that knowledge workers spend an average of 17 hours each week sending and answering business emails. And all that email is taking a toll.

The survey found that, on average, people spend 11.7 hours at work each week sending or answering email and another 5.3 hours on it when they work from home. They send or receive an average of 86 emails a day from the office and another 25 from home.

With such a high volume of email to process, getting a handle on it is imperative, especially for accountants, who need to focus on specific tasks without being distracted by a deluge of messages. Here are some tips to keep your inbox under control:

• Turn off alerts. Do you manage your email or does it manage you? Many people hear or see a new email in their inbox and immediately go in to attack it. Each email becomes urgent and is a constant distraction from the high-level work that needs to take place. Silence alerts, turn off pop-up notifications, and close out of email tabs to make it less tempting to check.

• Designate time for email. Attending to email at random times throughout the day is far more distracting than we realize, Any time you check your email, you're interrupting your cognitive process on the thing that you were working on. After the interruption, you then need to take time to refocus on what you were doing. Setting aside time just for email can help you avoid these breaks in productivity, she said.

• Take a breather. Emails imply a quick response is warranted, but most of them don't need immediate attention. The problem with email is it creates an artificial sense of urgency. That's the culture we're in, and that's why it's toxic. If an email isn't urgent, let a day or two pass before hitting reply. That will likely lead to fewer emails overall. People who respond to emails right away get four times more email than people who didn't.

• Use folders to help you prioritize. One way to declutter your inbox is by moving emails that need a response within 48 hours to a designated folder or marking them with a label, depending on which program you use, and working on those before the less important ones. You can use rules to automatically send emails to designated folders or labels, based on such criteria as the sender or certain words in the subject

• Be clear. Emails that are rambling or unclear may confuse recipients, prompting them to send follow-up emails that take up more of your time, In turn, emails that are too short may not get the message across. Let someone know whether your email needs immediate attention.

• Know when to stop replying. You don't have to reply to every single email. Don't keep the email chain going. Again, let urgency and importance determine whether you send someone a courtesy reply to let them know you got something. People typically don't need to send simple acknowledgements such as "thanks."

Whatever method you choose to manage your inbox, one thing is vital: You can establish rules, but then you have to actually live by them.
(Source: AICPA - CPA Letter Daily - CPA Insider - November 27, 2018)