3 Email Traps to Avoid at Work

For better or worse, email is a primary source of communication in pretty much any office environment. But if you're not careful, your tendency to check your email regularly might cause you to fall down performance-wise. Here are three sneaky email traps to avoid at all costs.

1. Thinking you'll respond to just one

It's not unusual to come back to your desk after a long meeting or lunch break and find 37 new messages in your inbox (or whatever number you happen to find daunting). And in that sort of scenario, it's natural to try to sneak in a reply to just one of those messages before diving into the project you know you're supposed to be working on all afternoon.

Big mistake. Once you see how quick and easy it is to reply to a single email, you're more apt to try to knock out others. If you don't have any major tasks on your plate, then by all means, clean up your inbox. But if you're up against a deadline, you might teeter on the edge of missing it if you go in planning to answer one email and wind up responding to 15.

A better solution, therefore, is to ignore your inbox and focus on priorities first. The only exception is if there's a message from your boss with the words "Urgent -- respond immediately" in boldface. Otherwise, get your most important tasks done, and tackle those emails at the end of the day. Along these lines, it pays to map out a schedule at the start of each week in which you block off specific periods of time for emails. This way, you won't have to stress about falling behind on responses, but you'll also lower the risk of getting too involved with your inbox and falling behind on pressing tasks.

2. Subscribing to too many industry newsletters or distribution lists

Some of the industry newsletters out there are extremely interesting and insightful. Many, however, aren't. Similarly, while it's always good to be in the loop at work, getting your name on too many internal distribution lists is a good way to clog up your inbox and ensure that you wind up wasting time looking through it.

Therefore, be judicious about what you subscribe to, and if you find that you're constantly inundated with messages you no longer read, get your email address deleted from those lists. If you're hesitant to go that route, at the very least set up filters that send those mass emails into their own folders, thereby making it easier for you to access your most important messages first. The last thing you want is for an informative message from a colleague to get buried and go unnoticed for days on end.

3. Writing a novel instead of a quick reply

The good thing about email is that it allows you to take the time to put your thoughts together before sharing them. But there's a danger in that -- getting sucked into a single email and having it take up way too much of your day.

It's not uncommon to sit down at your laptop thinking you'll shoot back a brief note to your boss, only to get caught up in the details of what you're saying and sink 20 solid minutes into a single response. That's why as a general rule, decide that any email that will take longer than five minutes to respond to will be better addressed in a live conversation. And then pick up the phone and call the person who wrote, or shoot back a brief note asking when's a good time to speak. It's a more efficient use of your time, which will help you avoid falling behind.

The smarter you are about emailing at work, the better you stand to do at your job. Steer clear of these traps, and your performance just might take a more positive turn.

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