Managing emails as a pharmacy student, pharmacy resident, and pharmacist can be a challenge. In this article, basic tips and strategies for managing emails are identified and discussed.
Authored by: Timothy P. Gauthier, Pharm.D., BCPS-AQ ID
[Last updated: 10 April 2018]
For many pharmacists, managing a daily barrage of emails is an unavoidable part of life. Some of this may be self-induced as a result of signing up for list-serves, journal e-table of contents notifications, and newsletters. The rest of the traffic however is likely important messages or content from an employer that must be reviewed.
If not well managed, emails can become a source of considerable frustration and have a negative impact of a person’s productivity. Even when emails are well managed the amount of attention and time spent dealing with them can be substantial.
Personally, over the years it has taken a continuous concerted effort to keep all of my emails at bay and stay organized without missing important tasks. While I do not claim to be an expert on this topic, I have picked up some important tips and strategies from others along the way. In an effort to share these and potentially help others to better manage their emails, the following was composed.
There are three things to note about the following. First, some of these may seem obvious to you, however I can attest they are not obvious to everyone. Second, how to modify various settings discussed below can be identified via simple Internet searches. Third, email systems may vary, but most offer an equivalent for what is discussed below, which is primarily in reference to Microsoft Outlook.
Here are some basic tips and strategies for managing your emails as a pharmacy student, pharmacy resident, or pharmacist…
1. Set up simple and effective pre-set email signatures
An email signature helps recipients identify who you are and why you may be contacting them. It also can provide a way for the recipient to get in touch with you off-line.
Most systems will allow users to create an email signature that auto-populates into the message when composing new emails or sending replies/ forwarding messages. Consider using a more abbreviated email signature for replies/forwards, which most email systems allow.
Try not to make your signature too bulky. I recommend a minimum of: full name, credentials, title, and telephone number in all professional email signatures. Beyond this, consider what information your recipients may need when deciding what else to add to your email signatures.
2. Reduce distractions by turning off new email alerts
You know that bell sound and notification in the corner of your screen that goes off when a new email is received? Turn it off! This is a distraction from your immediate task. Control your email. Do not let your email control you.
If the nature of your position (e.g., high-level supervisor) includes awareness for emails on a minute-to-minute basis, it may be a requirement to leave these alerts on, but if you do not need to know about new emails immediately, at least give it a try turning off the alerts. As a first step, you can also try keeping your computer on mute so the sound notification is no longer a distraction.
This suggestion applies to both mobile and desktop.
3. Back up your account
If you do not know how to back up your emails, talk to your IT department. Having your emails wiped can be a nightmare and can happen to anyone.
Don’t delay, back up your files today!
4. Create folders with practical names to sort emails
One way to avoid having an in-box with thousands of emails is to sort things into folders and sub-folders. This way, in the long-term it is easier to manage it all.
When picking folder names it is likely a good idea to select the first term or terms that come to mind regarding a particular subject. For example, if you want to file everything about a research project on glipizide, perhaps have a folder titled “Research Projects” and then a sub-folder (known as a nested folder in Gmail) titled “Glipizide Research.”
I have heard from experts that you should create a new backup location every year and start new folders under the new backup, because if your system becomes corrupted you will otherwise lose all of your files.
5. Create a folder labeled “nice comments”
Create this folder and then when someone compliments you or acknowledges your good work, place the message in this folder. If you are ever having a bad day in the future, you can come back to this folder for some positive reinforcement.
Someone suggested for me to do this so the messages could be used during supervisor assessments, but I have not found it useful for that purpose (yet).
6. Use the search mailbox tool to find old emails
Do you go to a folder and start scrolling like crazy to find that one email you need? It is time to stop doing that and start saving time by using the search tool.
On this point, a reason to include a descriptive subject in your email messages is so you can find it later using the search tool.
Also on this point, once you find a message of interest, there is a “find related” option that comes up with a right-click, which can further assist in navigating your archives.
7. Use shift + delete to permanently delete emails outright
If you delete an email it will go into your deleted items folder, which can count towards the total storage capacity for your account. Bypass the deleted items folder by holding down shift and hitting delete. The system will ask: “delete permanently?” and if yes is selected, the email is gone for good.
This can help with storage space management and reduce redundancy if you are deleting messages from your inbox, then reviewing them again before final deletion from the “deleted items” folder.
8. Use the high alert email flag, request delivery receipt, request read receipt, and “reply all” options sparingly
High-alert flags, delivery receipts, and read receipts unnecessarily enabled within messages can cause significant stress for recipients who receive the alert. As a general rule, only use these when there is a specific purpose for it.
In regards to “reply all” this is something that is frequently abused. Prior to selecting this option consider whether the recipients need to obtain your message and how much cumulative time and energy may go into opening / reading/ deleting it. To help everyone with productivity, use “reply all” wisely.
9. Use screenshots & hyperlinks to conveniently share content
From using the “print screen” button to more complicated screen capture programs, this is a great way to communicate accurately and quickly. Do not spend time re-typing content. Just send a photo! [NOTE: beware accidentally sharing protected health information]
It can also be helpful to recipients when a link is included within a message allowing for easy access to referenced content. Adding a hyperlink to a word is very easy via “insert hyperlink” and also in the future if you need to refer back to your message and information sources, the hyperlinks can serve helpful. Hyperlinks additionally provide a cleaner look to emails as compared to copy and pasting long Internet addresses.
10. Only leave emails in your in-box that require follow-up action
The inbox can become a pending tasks list if as soon as the action associated with a message is completed, the message is deleted or filed into a folder. In doing this, all that will be left in the inbox is pending tasks and new messages to review.
Some people like to have hundreds or thousands of emails in their inbox. Not me. The less emails in my inbox the less anxiety I have and the more confidence I have that I am managing my responsibilities well.
11. Unsubscribe from mail lists you have not found helpful in months
Once or twice a year reflect on the mail lists you are subscribed to and consider whether you are using the content provided. If the answer is that you are not using the content, consider unsubscribing.
Another feature many email systems have is the ability to send emails from a certain sender directly into one of your folders, so their messages do not clog up your inbox. Then, you can review messages from that sender when it is convenient to you and they will not distract you on a regular basis.
12. Limit your access to emails when you are outside of work
Many of us spend too much time on our phones as it is. Getting work emails directly to a personal device can make it even worse.
Beware that burnout syndrome is a real thing and to prevent it you need to consider work/life balance. In the short term being reachable in off-hours may seem like a great thing, but over a long period of time it can become a major contributor to burnout. Start off right by setting limits early on, when possible.
Hopefully you found one or two of the above tips useful. If you have a suggestion to add that is not listed, but you find to be very helpful, you can send it via email to IDstewardship@gmail.com or DM one of the @IDstewardship social media profiles.
Good luck with all of those emails!
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