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Productive Email Etiquette to Help Teleworkers Balance the Workday

You have back-to-back meetings today, including lunch with a client across town. No more mobile phone in the car, thanks to common sense (and state mandates). That leaves maybe five minutes in your customer’s lobby or before a meeting to scroll through mobile Outlook searching for that urgent email you know is there but just can’t find.

A Digital Nomad’s Email Inbox:
10 AM: 35 unanswered emails

11 AM: 60 unanswered emails

1 PM: 120 unanswered emails

4 PM: 200 unanswered emails

6 PM: 275 unanswered emails

The good news is you’re popular! Being in high-demand means you must be doing something right. The bad news is that popularity (not to mention your stamina) won’t last long if you can’t figure out how to manage the daily email onslaught in addition to your daily responsibilities at work.

Here are a couple productivity tricks for road warriors and digital nomads to wrangle your inbox and perhaps find some time to get that elusive cup of coffee.

Outlook can be your worst enemy or your best friend. The trick is revealing all Outlook’s little secrets when it comes to automating your inbox. If you haven’t taken an Outlook how-to training (whatever version your company’s standardized on) the time is now!

Now we don’t normally like rules — we’re human digital nomads, after all. But Outlook rules can save your day. When you receive a message, Outlook will automatically put them in a folder based on their name or key words, allowing you to see that you have 10 messages regarding a project or five new messages from a needy client. This also saves you from corporate reply-all messages that clutter your inbox with ‘woohoos’ and ‘atta boys.’

People overlook the fact that your calendar is for you — not them. If you’re a heavy email user/receiver, schedule 5-10 minutes on your calendar every hour or two and mark that time as “busy.” Two reasons:

  1. Scheduling this time as “busy” keeps those 5-10 minutes clear when co-workers check your availability to schedule a meeting, thus giving you a sanctuary on your calendar to catch up.
  2. This 5-10 minute block also keeps you from obsessively checking your email (they call it a CrackBerry for a reason), which distracts from the task at hand. We’ve all been in the middle of project, got distracted by an email and then forgot where we were in the project — or even fell behind. If you’re inbox is automated, you’ll know if an urgent item comes in that requires your immediate attention.

Find an Email Buddy
We’ve all been lost in the email weeds. And while some are lucky enough to have their own administrative assistants, most of us have to make due on our own. If you’re a Road Warrior, Digital Nomad or in a role that removes you from human contact during your work day, find someone in your organization that has computer time to help you manage your day — or someone that needs you to do the same thing for them.

This is a person or maybe even a rotating group of people you can put in your Out of Pocket messages. Automate every one of their emails to route to a specific folder when they’re on duty. When this folder shows a notification, you know they’ve found something that needs your immediate attention. Or join a virtual meeting from your mobile phone to get a quick update.

Out of Office
Your “Out of Office” automatic reply should really be called “Out of Pocket,” especially if you’re Road Warriors or Digital Nomads. If you’re not just sitting at your desk waiting for the next email to arrive, set your Out of Office message informing people of your reality at the moment. It’s amazing how positively people respond when you keep them in the loop. Here are a couple suggestions:

  1. “Thank you for your message! I’m on the road from 1-4 PM today for customer meetings. If this message is urgent, please call me directly at 888-888-8888 or reach out to my colleague Joe Schmoe.”
  2. “Hi and thanks for your email. I’m working on a customer project until 2 PM and will return your message shortly thereafter. If your message is urgent, please contact Joe Schmoe or leave me a message on my cell phone 888-888-8888.”
  3. “Hello and thanks for contacting me. I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” Well, maybe not that one, but you get the gist.

Stop the Insanity
If an email strand is longer than three or four replies, cut it off at the pass. If you need to email more than once back and forth, then email’s not the answer. Call the person involved instead of hitting the “reply” button and if it’s more than one person, schedule a meeting — either in person or a virtual meeting — to get the job done faster, more efficiently and without a confusing barrage of disjointed “reply all” messages.

Wage War with Your Inbox — and Be the Victor
Email is necessary for Digital Nomads — in fact, it’s the number one way the business world communicates— but it is a daily battle for survival. The key is to maximize your efficiencies, know your tools (Outlook, etc.) and make the technology work for you. The most important thing to remember is that you’re not alone. Your business depends on you to manage your clients, your projects and your success, so reach out to your colleagues, bribe them with coffee or golf and let them help you manage the fires. Your sanity will thank you.

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