30 Career Management Tips — Manage E-mail

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Sep 19

This month, I’m providing a career management tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own career management activities.

Today’s tip: Manage E-mail.

There comes a time when “career management” comes off the theory-laden shelf and gets down to execution of the work at hand. After all, you can talk about Career Management, create your personal brand, have a mentor, and setup your networking, but none of it matters much if you don’t deliver the work.

Most of us who work in cubes receive tasks through e-mail. We receive updates through e-mail. We communicate milestones through e-mail. We communicate completion of tasks through e-mail. We send our deliverable through e-mail. Even a few jokes have been known to be received through e-mail.

E-mail is the ubiquitous task and delivery communication tool on Corporate Earth.

Consequently, managing your e-mail is critical to having a successful career.

What does managing your e-mail mean? Here are five critical outcomes for successful e-mail management:

  1. E-mail to zero. I’m a fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology, but I’d advocate getting your e-mail to zero anyway. Why? Because in every e-mail, there is the possibility of the hidden task. Has your manager ever sent you an e-mail with no hint of a task in the subject line? Ever had an e-mail where the only content from the person sending it is “see below” and ten e-mails below is the task someone gave you? Me too. Unless you get your e-mail to zero, you will miss tasks.
  2. Send effective e-mails. There are many tips here, but if what you send out is garbage, you won’t be getting good information back.
  3. Three e-mail rule. If you are sending e-mails back and forth and hit number three, call the person instead. Calling is faster and there is less chance for interpretation errors.
  4. Ignore e-mail while completing tasks. Few of us need to be watching the e-mail box every two minutes checking to see if something came in. Yes, I do it too.
  5. Allocate the time to process e-mail. Many of us receive and/or send 100 e-mails a day. There is no way that 100 pieces of information can be processed without the time commitment to do that work. Most people need at least one hour a day just to process e-mail. Many need more. Try and build that into your non-existent schedule…

E-mail will most likely never be your productivity tool. But it is what it is and right now we need to successfully manager our e-mail because it helps us successfully manage our career.

  • […] performers use e-mail to show their performance. They are short, to the point, and ask for what is needed up front. Too many of us have yet to […]

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  • Scot Herrick says:

    Andrew — a great suggestion. I think every cubicle warrior in the world has had e-mails that demand something be done by a certain time — on the same day — regardless of your schedule or even if you have read the note.

    If people are working on tasks, they aren’t reading e-mail…or shouldn’t be…

  • I would also ensure all ‘urgent’ emails have been received and read by following up with a telephone call to the receiver. If fact, why send an urgent email? I hate it when individuals send me a urgent email, requesting I do something by 2pm. How do they know I have read it? Do they think I am just sitting there waiting for emails to come so I can respond?

    Use the telephone – go on – you might like it.


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