Effectively handling incoming emails

How do you handle incoming emails? Do you check and respond to them the instant they come in breaking focus on what you were working on? Or do you allocate specific times during the day when you respond and communicate via email? Are you a slave to your Blackberry or mobile device?

Email is our main mode of communication now, it seems that most people have a tendency to stop what they were focusing on as soon as an email comes in and respond to it accordingly, all the while the sender sits impatiently waiting for a response. Remember the time when we used to send letters in the post, or wait for responses on our voice mail? Are we getting way out of control with our email expectations?

Let’s take a look at a solution. One individual I know has adopted a technique whereby he checks email only three times per day. When I first heard this, I thought he was completely whacked! But after listening to his reasoning I began to understand his positioning. Being of a senior management position, checking and responding to emails only during his designated timeframe of morning, after lunch hour, and in the evening worked for him. It meant fewer interruptions, and made for a much more productive schedule on his end. Mind you, this individual may have grown up in a time when letters and rotary dialing were all the rage, and televisions occupied only a few houses on the block, but we can learn a lot here. Will it work for a web worker? I don’t think so. I think we have to adopt other effective techniques that maybe play off this model.

As web workers, we are highly expected to be connected 99% of the day. The other percent are the times that we accidentally leave our computers, handhelds or phones in a bag while we make a caffeine order. I tried out the morning, lunch, evening thing… once. Well almost, honestly I couldn’t even make it to the afternoon. The whole time I watched the notifications coming into Outlook, hoping that the emails weren’t too important. Do I enjoy letting myself get interrupted and loosing focus? Maybe I do subconsciously.


The effective handling of incoming emails that I have adopted is pretty simple. Keep an eye on them as they come in, flagging or staring the ones I will get to when I have “free” time during the day. The ones that I deem urgent, or ones where I can provide a short answer or confirmation, get responded to instantly. The other ones get looked at when I have “extra free time”. This technique seems to work just fine for me.

What are the techniques you use for effectively handling incoming emails?


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