There were some good lessons I learned about e-mail in 2006: like the love-hate relationship I have with e-mail. I love e-mail because of the simplicity of the interface, the ability to attach documents, the way in which it removes obstacles such as time zone differences, and the ubiquitous nature of the tool.
I hate it because of the volume, poor writing, and implied tasks buried within the e-mails I receive.
One of the very conscious things I tried to do last year was to reduce the overall e-mail volume coming into my inbox. My thinking was that if I had less volume coming into the inbox, there would be less time to process the e-mail as well. Plus, I'd get fewer implied tasks to do just because I was getting the e-mail in the first place.
Here's my biggest tip to reducing incoming (e-mail volume...):
Stop managing by e-mail.
I literally stopped writing e-mails for every single thing I was managing. Instead, if I had a question to a co-worker or employee that sits less then 200-feet from me, I walked over and asked my question or discussed the subject. The phone is a great tool as well.
If it was a status update, I asked in a face-to-face status meeting or on the phone.
If it was a proposal out there with questions, I asked my questions verbally and had the discussion with the person. Not the tool.
If it was a presentation preparation, I'd print the presentation and walk over to the person to discuss it, get my five clarifications, answer the two questions the person had for me and be done.
Face-to-face time with your coworkers. One has to be careful to not inappropriately interrupt, but face-time (or phone time) is a good thing. Before e-mail, you know, that's how business was done.
Less time processing the e-mail responses.
Less time writing the e-mail in the first place. How fast can you type?
Better responses. Because I'm talking to the person directly instead of interpreting an e-mail, I can get far better context around the subject at hand.
It's easy to slip into "management by e-mail." Don't. Instead, build your relationships with your coworkers by talking with them -- and not talking to your e-mail tool.