Physician tips to tame your email inbox

I am an email junkie and spend more time than I would like to admit on emails every day.  I start my day by looking at emails, and I end every evening reviewing emails.  And yes, I spend time during the day checking the computer for pertinent emails that need my attention.  I think many physicians are of the same ilk.

According to Alexandra Samuels, who is the author of Work Smarter With Social Media, suggests beginning by declaring to yourself how much time you ae willing to spend email.  She suggests setting a cap on email time.  Perhaps if you spend 3 hours a day on email, a reasonable goal would be to reduce your email time to 2 hours a day.  This might be 45 minutes at the beginning of the day and 30 minutes at the end of the day with another 45 minutes to check in throughout the day

Next, Ms. Samuels suggests setting up filters which can nicely thin your inbox to a volume that you could address in the amount of time committed to emails.  These filters can scan your incoming emails for keywords, and use those keywords to file most messages in folders that are considered alternative inboxes which are checked less frequently than the routine email inbox.  She suggests that anything that includes the word “unsubscribe” which are rarely checked or when you have more time on your hands that allows you to check low priority emails.  Eventually, you can sculpt your inbox to a manageable level and that anything that reaches the inbox is actually something you need and want to read.

There are several filters so that only key email hits your inbox. Two important filters are:

Cc: mail. If your name doesn’t appear in the “to” field of an email, it goes into a “cc: mail” folder. These Cc: (and Bcc:) emails rarely require you to take action, and it saves a huge amount of distraction to keep them out of your inbox. You can simply review the folder several times each week to help you stay involved in the email loop.

Bulk mail. Spam is unsolicited email, and your email program should be helping you filter out that email automatically. Bulk email refers to e-newsletters, social media digests, monthly billing statements, and other email that you want to receive but has zero urgency. It’s may be difficult to set up a filter that includes all these senders, but over time it adds up to a lot of time saved; also, email programs are beginning to provide smart filters that help automate this. These emails skip your inbox and go into a separate folder that you review a few times each month.

Lastly, training fellow physicians, family and friends to use more efficient methods of communication.  Your family and friends will still love you if you tell them that you are trying declutter your life and your inbox.  For example, if your family has an urgent message to send and waiting for a response, they might have a code word that goes in the subject line, such as “now,” which indicates a “to do” or requiring an immediate response.

I suggest you place boundaries on your viewing your emails.  Perhaps a self imposed discipline to check the emails at a maximum four times a day.  I recommend that physicians avoid checking emails as their first action in the morning.  Experts suggest that answering emails four times a day is the optimum to be effective. Doctors will achieve more and are more in control of their schedules and their calendars and, as a result, feel much less stressed.

Bottom line: I suggest that you goal is to spend one hour or less per day on email, for the sake of productivity, yet you want to be able to respond to important emails within 24 hours.  Final advice: Don’t allow your email to erode your productivity.  By following a few of these suggestions, you will enjoy and you will embrace the joy of an empty inbox.

Neil Baum is a urologist and author of Marketing Your Clinical Practices: Ethically, Effectively, Economically. He can be reached at his self-titled site, Neil Baum, MD, or on Facebook and Twitter.

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