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.


About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.

  • 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.


  • 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…

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