E-MAIL is an amazing communication and productivity tool but used indiscriminately, it wastes time and clogs up mailboxes.

Here are some guidelines for effectively managing the e-mail messages you send and receive.

Other modes

Think before you send an e-mail. Is it the best way to communicate? Would it be simpler or more appropriate to just pick up the phone or meet your contact in person?

State your subject

If you decide to use e-mail, make your subject rich enough so that your readers know exactly what your message is about. The best way to do this is to summarise your message in your subject heading.

For example, "Meeting with overseas visitors" is a poor entry because it is too vague, while "Meeting with Vice-Chancellor of Bradford University on Monday" is a good entry because it gives the gist of your message at one glance.

State your objective

Ask yourself why you are sending an e-mail to each recipient, and let them know at the start of the message what their role is. For example,

To: Celia, Safian, Uma, Marcus

Subject: Draft copy of the advertisement for client XYZ

Celia: Your decision is needed. Please approve the draft.

Safian: Please check the contents of the advertisement.

Uma and Marcus: Please liaise with the PR agency and schedule the dates for the advertisement.

Keep it short and simple

Make sure your e-mail does not exceed one page. Avoid using capital letters - putting asterisks around a word are an easy way to add emphasis. Don't use e-mail to vent your anger: abusive or defamatory statements are liable for legal action.

Use the A-B-C format to break the body of your e-mail message into three sections.

A: Action step

After a brief, warm greeting at the start of your e-mail, craft a single sentence that summarises the specific action or purpose of your message.

An example of an action step is: "I will get the balance sheet for ABC ready by Dec 18, 2007."

B: Background

This is the main body of your message. Place your ideas in a logical sequence. Use bullet points to highlight your key points.

C: Close

Avoid extensive niceties at the end of your e-mail as this may reduce the importance of your core point. A brief, courteous conclusion is enough to let you close your e-mail without sounding abrupt.

Reply not needed

When you send an e-mail to disseminate information, state at the end of it that you do not need a reply. This will stop people from sending "courtesy" e-mails.

Manage you time

Check your e-mail at specific times each day. This helps you plan your workday better. You will also be more productive if you are not distracted by the need to check for new messages every 10 minutes.

As you open your e-mail messages, do one of the following:

* If it requires a quick response, respond to it and delete it.

* If it is going to take a considerable amount of time, schedule it for action in your diary, download the message and print it for future action.

* Draft standard responses if you receive lots of similar enquiries.

* Always re-read e-mails before sending them, including the subject box, to pick up any spelling mistakes.

* If you are forwarding or re-posting a message you have received, do not change any words.

Housekeep regularly

Delete unimportant e-mails as soon as you read them. This will prevent your inbox from getting cluttered.

Your checklist

Before you send an e-mail message, ask yourself if it is:

* Necessary

Your boss also has to deal with a deluge of e-mail messages. If you send him an e-mail, make sure you send him one that contains information that he truly needs. Being judicious with e-mail shows that you care about and respect your boss's time.

* Inoffensive

Although e-mail is a business tool, it has a personal feel. Avoid circulating jokes and emotionally charged e-mails. Remember that the recipient is a human being whose culture, language and sense of humour have different points of reference from your own.

When you are angry or upset with someone in your office, draft a reply to express your feelings. But wait for one whole day before sending it. Chances are, you would have cooled down by then and can replace your angry e-mail with a more professional one.

* Targeted

It is the most effective way to cut down on e-mail time. Don't hit the "Reply" or "Reply to all" options for minor discussion points or trivial issues. Insert "No Reply Needed" in the subject line.