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With more people working from home, e-mail is probably gobbling up an increasing proportion of your day. So let’s look at some tips to sharpen your efforts.

Consultant Kevin Eikenberry on his blog actually recommends some extra e-mails that you wouldn’t ordinarily send but he argues they can “improve your life and results.” They include:

  • Next-step e-mail: If, after a meeting or phone call, there’s some fogginess about what happens next, send an e-mail that clarifies and confirms.
  • Let’s get on the phone e-mail: When an e-mail thread is wandering away from a conclusion and getting more complex, write “let’s talk about this rather than typing.” He says that that e-mail will almost always save you time and misunderstandings. And if it’s a colleague you used to see regularly, but because of changed work routines these days don’t, a phone call should be welcome.
  • The encouraging e-mail: How about sending a co-worker an e-mail that is encouraging and uplifting? “Be specific about something the person did or does regularly and let them know it makes a difference. This is positive feedback that can be savored and saved,” he says. Again, good advice as we’re social distancing.
  • The learning e-mail: When you learn something or want to apply a new technique, write an e-mail to yourself. “You would gain the clarity that comes from writing it down, the chances of you applying it would go up as you committed it to yourself, and you could save those lessons and learning in a folder in your e-mail. E-mails like this sent to yourself regularly could change your life,” he says.

As for e-mail overload, John Zeratsky says he has tried a long list of e-mail-organization products and rejected them all. “More technology isn’t the solution to e-mail overload. Better tactics are,” he writes on Medium.

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He recommends removing e-mail from your phone. Checking e-mail when you’re not in a position to do anything about it – which is often the case on the phone for him and perhaps you – fragments focus and creates anxiety.

He also recommends only checking e-mails at specific times blocked out on your calendar -- twice in the morning for quick reviews, and once in the afternoon for a longer session. Scheduling time for e-mail, of course, is not new. But you might want to try his unusual mental models to keep on task.

The first is “fishing bear.” In the morning e-mail checks, he imagines himself standing on the bank of a river, reaching into the water to pluck out a tasty salmon here and there. That means looking for important and time-sensitive e-mails. If the message requires a quick reply, he does that. If it requires more time he might do it right away or put it in his calendar. “During these sessions, I am not trying to clear my inbox or ‘process’ my e-mail. That requires a different time of day and a different mindset,” he explains.

In the afternoon, with energy often sapped, he becomes a “munching cow.” Like a cow chewing on grass, he methodically works his way through his inbox, reading each message and replying, filing in a folder, or pulling it out of his inbox if it deserves special attention. While doing this, more e-mails may have piled in, so he returns to fishing-bear mode.

Some e-mails are so important, they really aren’t e-mails. They are projects disguised as e-mails – the e-mails were simply a delivery mechanism. A thoughtful response is required that will take time and focus to craft. He turns them into an activity to be scheduled, perhaps a highlight to tackle the next day.

Perhaps your e-mail strategy can be tweaked to include some of those ideas.

Quick hits

  • Often in job interviews, when we don’t know the answer to a question, we tend to ramble. Executive recruiter Gerald Wash warns against that trap as it can make you seem unfocused. If you are uncertain what is being asked, ask for clarification. If you understand but don’t know how to respond, pause for a couple of seconds to gather your thoughts.
  • It’s recommended after interviews to send a follow-up note – but that doesn’t mean a text. The Get Five careers site advises that’s only wise if the interviewer has already started a texting relationship.
  • Being nice in a negotiation can backfire, recent research suggests. It appears being firm will lead to better results.
  • Animated GIFs in e-mails are worse than static e-mails, The Nielson Norman Group’s user experience specialists have found.
  • When you submit a sales proposal, consultant Alan Weiss recommends creating a time and a date for follow up – about 48 hours or less after receipt. “The longer you wait, the worse your fate,” he says. Begin the follow-up: “What options from the proposal have you chosen to go forward?”

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