Monday, January 28, 2002

The Success Coach

Set firm guidelines for handling office mails

By Michael Crom
Gannett News Service

        QUESTION: Every time I go out for lunch or come back from a meeting, there's always either plenty of voice mails and e-mails waiting for me to respond, or letters and memos left on my desk. I end up spending half an hour to an hour handling them. I have tried putting them aside while I focus on more important tasks. However, I end up not having any free time to check the mail at all. So it piles up and I have no choice but to spend some time on them again. This always interrupts my workflow. How do I put a stop to it!

        ANSWER: Your predicament is something everyone encounters at work. With the advent of e-mail, the mail has increased almost tenfold overnight! E-mail, voice mail and the ever-present postal mail compete with memos, reports and faxes for your time and attention. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by everything flooding your in box, try these organizing techniques to help fight the clutter:

        • Set and keep a regular schedule. Make a habit of checking your mail — postal, voice, e-mail and fax — at the same time every day. Try recording a message on your voice mail, informing callers that you will respond at a specific time each day. Last, try putting a limit on the amount of time you spend handling mail and devote your personal best time of the day for your most demanding tasks.

        • Keep responses short and simple. Reply to memos and other informal mail by writing on the original correspondence and returning it to the sender. Answering some letters with a quick phone call can eliminate written responses. Prepare a brief memo instead of a formal letter when possible. When you are not qualified to deal with a particular piece of mail, forward it to an appropriate colleague.

        • Voice mail. Speak clearly and leave brief messages. Say your phone number slowly so that it can be understood. If this is an informative call, let people know you don't expect a call back. At times, when you are put on hold, be productive and use time to work on a report or catch up on some reading.

        • E-mail. Make your messages brief by writing in the “About/Subject” line and end it with “EOM,” the acronym for End of Message. Refrain from sending unnecessary graphic attachments, which take time to download. Last, copy only those people who need to be copied.

        Creating guidelines for managing your mail is the best way to take control of this ongoing challenge. The more effectively you organize your mailboxes, the more time you'll have for other responsibilities. Better yet, you'll gain extra hours for the leisure activities you never find enough time for.

        Michael Crom is executive vice president, Dale Carnegie Training. For advice on work issues, visit or e-mail:


Latest Enron updates
Palm's wireless handheld arrives
Severance pay grows, says survey
- The Success Coach
Morning Memo
Auto dealers think industry is on a roll
Promotions & new on the job