For most of us, email is the #1 software tool we use every day. I would even venture to guess it’s used more often than your phone. People have seemed to gravitate towards email as the de-facto communication standard the world over. But as a victim of its own success, many of us are inundated with loads of email every day. If we are managing a team of 20 people or more, you could literally have hundreds of emails in your box every day. And even if you don’t manage BAs, you may still have hundreds of emails every day. And unless you clean out your email inbox every day, you could be sitting on many hundreds of unread, un-acted-upon, filling-up-space emails. And this is not theory – when I’m talking to BAs about challenges in their daily job, many of them reply not only about the activities of a BA, but managing their emails.

How has such a great communication tool allowing us to reach across geographical boundaries and time been a major problem for BAs all over? It’s because it has the potential to overload us with information. I’ll give you some successful techniques to manage your email communication. While I can’t say that I am at “inbox zero,” I currently have only 13 email messages in my inbox. 4 are from two weeks ago, 6 from last week, 1 from Sunday, and 2 from yesterday.

Why are there emails from two weeks ago? Because I think I’m going to do something with them. But am I really? This is a time-waster many of us fall victim to every day. We read the email and decide we are going to act on it. But we don’t do something about it just then. We keep it in our inbox as a reminder. Then re-read it later. Then look at it next week and re-re-read it. Then it’s two weeks old and we re-re-re-re-read it.

  • Delete your email first. I’m not talking about deleting everything, but if you arrive in the morning, and there are 50 unread email messages, there are probably some that you don’t have to do anything with. Stores sending you sale links, notifications that so-and-so wants you to be their friend on Facebook, and someone retweeted a Twitter message. You don’t have to act on any of those things. Get rid of them, including the one from Nigeria wanting to share millions of dollars with you provided you send a small start-up fee.
  • Let your computer do the work. This springboards onto what was mentioned in the previous bullet point. If you are getting inundated from Twitter notifications, create a rule on your computer to delete those message upon receipt. It’s one more email stream you don’t have to manage. If you’re active on Twitter, or Facebook, or Linkedin, you’re going to see those notifications anyway when you navigate to the site.
  • If you are not going to deal with the email immediately, file it in a “to-do” folder. You can go back when you have time to the ToDo folder and complete some of those tasks. If it’s critical, you have to deal with it immediately, but if it’s not, why store it among the incoming messages in the inbox.
  • Use a Two-Minute rule. This is an interesting technique I read about and adopted. If it will take you less than two-minutes to deal with the email RIGHT NOW, do it. Then get rid of it. You have acted on the email and now you don’t have to worry about it later on. To keep the action under two minutes, don’t spend too much time writing long paragraphs. Think in concise terms. What is the essential message you need to convey? Think about it and write that and nothing more.

Basically, when you receive an email, you can only do four things with it: delete it, read it, act on it, or file it for action later. So, when it comes in, process it in that order: If it’s of no value to you (simply a notification that you don’t need), delete it immediately. If not, read it, and then decided on acting on it right now (using the two-minute rule), or filing it away in a ToDo folder for later. Done.

I’ll discuss other techniques in a subsequent blog post and document how email can actually be a barrier to communication. Meanwhile, what are some successful techniques you have used to manage your inbox?