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  E-mail Management Blues?
Help, please! I am a fairly new community manager of a very busy community website and I am being bombarded with e-mails from my community volunteers and members. I want to be responsive and helpful to all, but I am overwhelmed. How do I manage the flurry of e-mails and slim it down to something I can cope with?

You ask a great question, and we thank you for doing so.

It sounds like you have been struck by a common affliction - e-mail management blues. The symptoms; dread in the pit of your stomach when you access your e-mails, sweaty palms and head spins when you attempt to answer them. Please do not worry, you are not alone, and we have some suggestions that will help provide relief.

Let's begin with the following questions:

1) How do you prioritize your e-mail when it lands in your inbox?
Youíll need a system for your incoming e-mail that allows you to recognize quickly and consistently what needs to be responded to first and what can wait. This can be accomplished by creating different folders for different categories, so that when e-mails arrive you can place them (either manually or automatically) in the proper folder for review. Use the "keep as new" or "mark as unread" feature to act as a reminder for what needs attention or replying to.

2) How do you ensure that your e-mail has all the information needed so that further explanation is not needed?
When responding to e-mails it is important that you do not create more work for yourself, simply because you werenít clear in the first instance. Why end up sending two e-mails when one could have done? Clarity and asking the right questions helps! If you are making a request of someone, clarify when you require a response and what is needed, making sure to include a due date. Another important tip if you are writing one of those "tricky" e-mails; hold on to your response, letting it sit for a while and then re-read it to ensure that you have covered everything you needed to cover.

3) How do you avoid writing an e-mail that creates new work for you?
Have you ever heard the old adage, "Itís not what you say, but how you say it."? There is a great deal of truth in this. When creating or responding to an e-mail think of how you would most likely respond if you were the recipient. Would you find the e-mail to be condescending? Too gushy and insincere? Rude? When dealing with e-mail, especially e-mails that address potentially sensitive issues, it is important to watch your tone, and how you come across. As mentioned in the prior tip, it is often best to let a response sit for a bit, and then re-read it before hitting that send button. If you get that e-mail wrong, youíll perhaps have to mop up the mess! Get it right the first time and you wonít create more work for yourself.

4) Do you have a system where you can easily find e-mail documentation?
Similar to point one, it is important that you have some sort of system in place where you are able to quickly and easily find the information you need. From this system you can easily define;

a) what needs a reply, and
b) what can be considered informational e-mail (e.g. records, background info, e-mails that don't necessarily require response or a two-way exchange).

You may wish to consider editing the subject lines of an e-mail so that you are able to find things upon a quick scan. Another helpful method is to set up different e-mail accounts, where you can forward certain e-mails and documents to. That way you always know where to find the exact information you need.

5) Are you quick to respond to incoming e-mails?
It is great to be seen as responsive, but are you setting yourself up for a fall by always responding too quickly? If you find yourself doing so, bear in mind that you may get caught in two traps;

a) responding so quickly that your response is not well thought out and/or contains errors or omissions, and
b) enabling people to expect that you will always respond right way, so that when you donít they worry.

It is OK to let someone know that you are thinking about their e-mail and will respond within a certain period of time. For example, "Thank you so much for your e-mail. I will be sure to provide you with a thorough response by Thursday..." Letting a person know that you have received their e-mail, are giving it careful consideration, and when they can expect a response will be of most help to you in managing your time and e-mails.

If you respond quickly to e-mails because you are worried youíll forget otherwise or that they will simply get lost in amongst other things, then you may not be as organized as you could be. See the other tips for ways in which you might be able to avoid this scenario.

Some of these suggestions may take a bit of getting used to. Not to worry though, once you have established a system that works best for you the e-mail management blues and all its symptoms will disappear.

We hope these suggestions have been of assistance to you. We wish you the best of luck in your new role as community manager. Should you ever need anything in the future, please do not hesitate to let us know.

- Jon Nix and Pam Thomas
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