The truth is, not all e-mails are created equal. Some are of extreme importance, and you thank the technology gods as soon as you receive them. Others could've been sent via carrier mule, taken 3 months to get to you, and still wouldn't have mattered in the grand scheme of things - to you or the person who sent it.
Some folks hate email because they feel things can be accomplished quicker with a simple phone call, which is sometimes the case. Those same folks would tell you that email is very impersonable and creates a divide between two people.
Others, like myself, enjoy keeping a nice healthy divide between us because it allows us to multitask and prioritize in a way that we wouldn't be able to if we were to receive a phone call every time somebody wanted to get in contact with us.
As a general rule, I check my e-mail 3 times per day, and do my very best to limit my responses based on when I received the email.
Whatever your flavor, email is here, and it's here to stay. It's best to embrace it and find a way to make it work for you. Here is my day-to-day strategy for organizing emails, in a way that respects the needs of my clients without becoming counter-productive:
STEP 1: DIVIDE & CONQUER
As a general rule, I check my e-mail 3 times per day, and do my very best to limit my responses based on when I received the email. Here's how I break it down:
Emails received from 4 P.M. (Yesterday) - 8 A.M. (Today)
I will answer these emails at around 10 A.M. every morning. This happens AFTER I plan out the day, but BEFORE I execute my plans.
Emails received from 8 A.M. - 12 P.M.
I will answer these emails right after lunch. They will determine whether or not I stay the course, or shift direction for the rest of the afternoon.
Emails received from 12 P.M. - 4 P.M.
I will answer these emails right at 4 o'clock, and do my absolute damnedest to not respond to email again until the following morning.
STEP 2: REACH FOR THE STARS
Like being a Superhero, the ability to "star" emails is both a blessing and a curse. With great power comes great responsibility, and mis-management of starring can have grave consequences ☝🏼. OK, maybe that's a tad dramatic, but I'm trying to get my point across. Don't overdo the star or it will lose its impact, like honking in New York City.
If you have trouble determining when to star an email, archive an email, or quickly respond to an email, ask yourself the following:
• Will it take me longer than 60 seconds to read and/or answer it?
• Does this email warrant a response from me personally?
• Is it vital that I answer this email ASAP, but am unable to right now?
If the answer is YES to all of those, then go ahead and star that badboy, and get back to it as soon as you're reasonably able. Otherwise, go ahead and knock it out quickly. Or forget it ever happened. Whatevs.
STEP 3: MAKE EXCEPTIONS
This is life, and stuff happens. There will be emails that come across your screen truly warranting immediate response and action. There's no simple formula or flow-chart you can use to qualify an email as life-or-death. Like how Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart defines pornography: you know it when you see it.
So, take my steps for what they are: general guidelines. Even with all of the rules, criteria, and protocols I put in place for myself when organizing emails, I still make exceptions every day.
Hell, I even pick up the phone every now and again - true story.