THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Curtail email: Take this test... and take control

Don't tell me you get too much email. Everyone gets too much email. You still need to be able to be effective with it. Here are three things people do that they shouldn't. If you do any of these, you need to get a better grip on your email.

1. Do you keep emails in your in box to remind you to do something? Your email box is not a to-do list, or at least it shouldn't be. Your to-do list is very important. It determines what you will get done in your life. It determines what your priorities are and what you value. So why would you let someone else dictate your that?

If you aren't writing the items on your to-do list, then you aren't controlling your own destiny. Really. It's that serious. So write a note to yourself on your to-do list about each email, prioritize it, and then delete. (And if you're sending yourself emails, that is so dysfunctional that I'm not even going to list it.)

2. Does it take you more than 24 hours to respond to people you love? This is lame– lame in response to anyone, but especially for people you love. A 24-hour response is the expectation of email. If you can't meet it, don't use it. It's like this: If you respond to an IM message 10 hours later, you're not using IM, you're using email. And if you respond six days later to an email, you may as well write a letter.

If people you love send you stupid emails that you don't want to have to respond to, then tell the person directly. This is a much more effective way to operate than to passive-aggressively take a long time to respond.

3. Do you avoid scrolling through your in box because it's filled with emails you don't want to answer? Try resorting. I usually sort by date sent. But I once accidentally sorted by sender, and I noticed that I owed 80 percent of my responses to five people and 20 percent to 20 people. Just knowing that situation encouraged me to get moving. Instead of thinking of the task as 30 emails, I could think of it as five people. Much easier.

Here's a game I play with myself: No reading unless I'm deleting. Either I respond right away or file the email and add it to my to-do list. That's a lot of work, filing and adding. So I tend to answer quickly and right away. And the more practice I get answering email quickly the easier it becomes.

I noticed that the primary cause for not answering an email right away was not that I wasn't sure what to say, it was that I thought I needed to say something amazing. But really, emails need to be timely more than they need to be amazing.

Something else I noticed... It's fine to respond with a quickie one-sentence message when you're getting back to someone right away. But if you wait five days to respond and then send a quickie, you look like a procrastinator.

On the other hand, if you spend all day answering your email obsessively, you also scream to people that you're losing your mind. Because if you answer all mail as soon as it comes in, you're not doing your real job unless your only job is to answer email.