In today’s workplace of information and communication overload, we correspond with many people through many media each day. This article provides tips for communicating with others in a prompt and easy fashion, leading to more control over your time and communications.

Mail moves the country, and zip codes move the mail--well, perhaps not anymore. Nevertheless, most messages you receive, whether in the form of email, faxes, or memos, require your response. The faster and more easily you reply, the better your day, week, career, and life will be--and the more you'll be in control of your time. There are many options available to you for speedily handling reply messages.

What Do You Want to Send and Why?

If you're in sale or a type of position where you initiate contact with potential customers or clients, then your mail and messages are pro-active in nature. You're sending information or literature designed to get another party interested in what you can offer them in the way of goods or services. It's likely that the majority of the information and messages you send to others represents a response to a request they've made, or an obligation that you need to fulfill.

Handling Correspondence Quickly

Many times the correspondence you'd like to promptly address falls by the wayside; you have to care for too many other things. A key time-saving element when responding to messages is this: When a response doesn't require formal business protocol (i.e. when you know the other party well), or the item only merits brief regard, there are many ways to handle the correspondence quickly.

1. Some people use pre-printed messages such as, "Excuse the informality, but I feel it's more important to respond promptly than to offer a more formal reply that would take much longer."

Ask people how they feel when they receive such replies, and the vast majority will agree that they'd rather get a quick, informal response that answers their question, than wait weeks for a formal response.

2. Retain the return address information on the envelopes from the mail you receive. Thereafter, you can use their addresses as your address label back to them, and avoid having to engage your printer, copier, or label paper. Such addresses can be clipped or torn out with a ruler's edge.

When I receive a package from someone, I clip the label from their envelope and attach it to the documents that came inside with a big paper clip or removable tape. When I'm ready to make a response, the address label party is already available.

Often, when you cannot get a reply from others, it is because they are overwhelmed--they have not devised systems for readily responding to the information and messages they receive. Often their failure to respond in a timely manner (or at all) has little to do with the merit of your request. It is a result of their personal ineffectiveness or their organization's ineffectiveness.

3. Order a rubber stamper from your office supply store that says "Speed Reply." I have such a stamper. It's oversized and prints in bright red. When you receive a letter that merits a quick reply, stamp it with "speed reply," and offer your reply on the space at the bottom of the letter. Alternatively, you could print labels that say "speed reply" and affix them to the page.

Deep, bold, red ink appears as black when submitted via fax machine, so you have the option of faxing the letter. You could even copy and mail the letter. Such techniques enable you to get a reply to the other party quickly, and give you a record of the correspondence that's been transmitted. Such a response is helpful to the recipient as well, because it simultaneously presents their message and your reply. Think of how many times you have written to someone, and they responded, but you can't recall why you initiated the correspondence.

4. If you're mailing a response to another party, insert one of your own address labels. This helps the other party keep in touch with you. I enclose my address label with nearly all correspondence I mail. If you anticipate more contact with the other party, you may even want to include extra address labels.

Thereafter, you'll begin to happily notice that you receive replies from the other party more promptly, and that they're using the address labels you had provided them. This tells you that they've bought into your system. You've successfully trained a correspondent to be more adept at communicating with you, so now both you and the other party benefit.

5. Order a rubber stamp or create a label that facilitates your fax replies as well. Such a stamper or label would include your name, phone, and fax number. You would stamp or affix this label on the correspondence you receive. This works well and avoids using the recipient's fax paper.

When you receive faxes from a free-standing fax machine, half the time the other party uses up a full page announcing that a fax is coming, then uses another page to send you a six or eight line message. The whole communication could have taken one-third of a page.

When you initiate a labeling system, you let the other party know that you respect their time and resources. Also, you keep your costs down. It costs far less for a third or half a faxed page to go over the wires than two pages.

If you're using a fax modem, the same principles apply. Keep your fax identification information concise and near the top of the first page. Keep your message brief. This keeps your transmission costs down and actually increases the chances of a response. Many of your correspondents already get too many messages, and they're most likely to answer those that are brief and concise.

6. For longer hardcopy correspondence, use the back side of the page you receive. Make a copy of the front and back for your own hardcopy files, if necessary. Sometimes you can consolidate the correspondence you've received, thereby consolidating the correspondence you send. If someone sends you a two-page letter, but you only need to respond to one key paragraph, clip that paragraph, include it at the top of your transmission, and offer your reply below.

7. Feel free to number the points in the correspondence you've received, and address each point in your reply. This will cut down on the time and energy it takes for you to offer a reply. Otherwise, you get stuck having to write, "Based on your statement in paragraph two... you said XYZ, I feel that... ABC. In paragraph four you stated that... jkl."

When you number the points in the correspondence you receive, you can usually address everything in one page. While business and organizational protocol may often call for formal responses, your mission is to attempt to offer as many informal responses as you can. Formal responses that take two pages or more, require copy-editing. Also, when becoming immersed in such long-winded correspondence, the time is sucked out of your day and life.

8. Be on the lookout for ways to combine your fax machine or fax modem, printer, and copier, to quickly and efficiently generate appropriate responses to messages you receive, rather than letting correspondence pile up.

9. Design forms to handle routine communication. Better yet, see if someone in your office has already created such a form, or assign the task to someone. Many office supply stores carry books with pre-designed correspondence forms. They're well worth the $10-15, since you're likely to save enough time the first day you use such forms to more than justify the purchase.

In an era of information and communication overload, too many career professionals indicate that they need more time to get their jobs done. This kind of thinking keeps you enslaved to the clock. More time is not on its way, nor is it the solution, if you're not already operating efficiently.

Author's Bio: 

Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®," is a preeminent time management authority, has written 56 mainstream books, and is an electrifying professional speaker, nearly 800 presentations since 1985 to clients such as Kaiser Permanente, IBM, American Express, Lufthansa, Swissotel, America Online, Re/Max, USAA, Worthington Steel, and the World Bank. Jeff is Executive Director of the Breathing Space? Institute; a popular speaker; and the author of numerous books, including: Simpler Living (Skyhorse Publishing), The 60 Second Innovator (Adams Media), Breathing Space (MasterMedia), Complete Idiot's Guide to Managing Your Time(Alpha/Penguin).

Jeff has been widely quoted in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, and USA Today. Cited by Sharing Ideas Magazine as a "Consummate Speaker," Jeff believes that career professionals today in all industries have a responsibility to achieve their own sense of work-life balance, and he supports that quest through his websites and and through 24 iPhone Apps at