If you believe Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, e-mail is going away. Sandberg, speaking this week at a consumer conference in Las Vegas, said only 11 per cent of teenagers e-mail on a daily basis, which represents a trend that all of us will follow in the future.
Although I agree that many tech users are relying more on text messaging and social networking to connect, the reality is that for those of us in the business world, e-mail still reigns. When I mention my ongoing goal of keeping my inbox at zero, which means filing, responding to and answering all messages, my friends and colleagues often sigh and share their own sad stories about e-mail issues.
Unfortunately, lately, my inbox is a bit of a mess. I can't seem to get on top of "the stream," and as much as I work well into the night to sort through them all, in the morning each managed handled is inconveniently replaced with a brand new one. Instead of suffering through this problem alone, I went to Twitter to get help. There were lots of recommendations from you all, but here are the top 10 that are worth trying.
1. Manage your e-mail at set times of the day. Put aside blocks in your day to answer e-mail so you can power through as many as possible at once (via @bdonor).
2. Don't check or read a message until you have time to reply. Otherwise, you will put off responding and the messages will build up (via @WalkerLucas).
3. Read an e-mail and file it immediately. Make use of folders and filters to put messages in archives or actionable folders. (via @Frizzera_Ink)
4. Set your mail client to show e-mails as threaded conversations. Gmail does this automatically, but other services require a manual set-up. This will help to reduce overall number of e-mails since chances are that the majority of your e-mails are from the same people (via @Accidental_Rob).
5. Connect all your e-mail accounts to one central account, such as Gmail or Hotmail or Yahoo. This will allow you to manage everything in one spot (via @arsenehodali). Also, many of these services, such as Gmail, allow you to create canned responses. For example, within Gmail you can turn on Canned Responses in Labs so you can send the same reply multiple times.
6. Practise "Operation In-box Zero," so you always delegate, respond, defer, or do something with each one. This means you work tirelessly to keep your inbox empty. Watch this helpful video for more inbox zero tips from productivity guru Merlin Mann (via @bsippel).
7. Diversify your communication channels by using Facebook/Twitter/Yammer for informal messaging. In other words, simply use one e-mail address for business and have conversations with friends and family using other platforms (via @maxplante).
8. Answer e-mails on your mobile handset. Whether you have a BlackBerry or iPhone, respond to messages on this device. You'll be able to get through your e-mails more quickly because there is less of tendency to write long-winded messages (this is my pick -- I do this a lot when I'm feeling overwhelmed with e-mails).
9. Use an add-on tool like Xobni for Outlook to easily find attachments, manage social connections, and organize your contacts (via @howitts_done). On a Mac, you can try MailTags to attach an action to each e-mail so you can follow up appropriately or be reminded with another message in the future. Think of this like "e-mail triage."
10. Declare e-mail bankruptcy. Delete everything and start over. Let people know that you did this, so they can re-send critical messages (via @CliffordKennedy).
Over the past few years, I've tried many of the above tips. What's happened lately is that I haven't had any system in place, so I've just left things to pile up. While I don't think I'm brave enough, or can afford, to try number 10 on this list, there are times when it's tempting. However, for now, I'm confident I'll get back on the right track, but it won't be easy. And considering the huge response I had on Twitter when I asked for tips, others are in the same boat. So Sandberg might be a little ahead of her time with her end-of-e-mail prediction.