Do you suffer from excessive email checking? Do you spend enormous amounts of time reading and replying to emails? If the answer to any of these two questions is yes, join the club!
Research shows that working adults spend on average 6.3 hours a day checking and responding to email, which means they waste 31.h hours a week doing – nothing! That’s one than one day lost each week, more than 5 days each month and so on. You’ll agree that’s a lot.
Some may argue that this falls into their job description, but we beg to differ. We’re not saying “don’t check email.” We’re saying “do it smartly.”
First of all, not all incoming emails are of equal importance. It goes without saying that urgent messages should be addressed ASAP, but if you do some calculation, you’ll see that these are in the minority. With the exception of upcoming important events when lots of messages are being circulated around, a normal working day usually doesn’t come packed with urgent messages arriving all day long.
To boost your productivity, learn to prioritize. The practice is similar to task prioritization. Normally you’ll do urgent and time-sensitive tasks first and leave the remainder for later. The same goes for emails. Use labels and different colors to mark important messages and set them apart from the rest of incoming emails. This is also helpful in terms of at-a-glance visibility, where you won’t have to go through all subject lines and senders to decide which messages cannot wait. This will save you some additional time.
Check Emails Twice a Day
Pick two time slots during the day for checking new messages. These may fall into different times of the day depending on your job description. Busy business people usually need to check their inboxes in the peak hours. Others can do it once in the morning and once in the evening.
It is important to set a time limit for the activity. Be realistic – use the average volume of incoming emails per day to determine how much time you’ll need. If some messages are still left after the designated deadline, leave them for later if they aren’t urgent. Go back to your scheduled activities in between and don’t even think about emails until the next time slot.
If you check emails in the evening, make zero inbox a top priority. In this way you’ll have to check only the messages that arrived during the night in the morning.
By combining these practices – time limit, two time slots and zero inbox – you’ll be able to decrease the time spent on checking incoming messages dramatically.
Turn Off Notifications
To avoid incoming messages interrupting your busy schedule, make certain to turn off notifications. Now, some people just love sending automated messages letting the sender know when to expect a reply, but we’re not in favor of it.
Of course, the decision is up to you, but automated replies don’t differentiate between the labels and many senders are annoyed by them. Keep in mind that they may be also struggling with email overload, so any new notification telling them they were interrupted for nothing is unlikely to help their case.
First Things First
Use an email calendar to help you keep track of all new messages. It’s an effort only initially until you have established a scheme that suits you.
I.e., you can use different labels and colors to help you with sorting out emails and with prioritizing. Soon you will learn to distinguish them at a glance. “At a glance” is the key phrase here. Rather than reading all new messages or at least subject lines, you should be able to tell which emails can wait simply by casting a glance.
If you use multiple email accounts, use a single template for all of them. Make use of labels and colors to differentiate between them. Using multiple calendars will only contribute to more time being wasted.
You can also add comments if the practice simplifies things for you – anything that will help the “at a glance” goal.
The Art of Conciseness
Writing and responding to emails can take considerable time but the process can often times be shortened considerably.
You must have guessed how already – conciseness is the key.
The skill is highly useful in all life situations, but nowhere is it more obvious than in the case of emails. How many times have you come across a lengthy message beating around the bush? How many times have you lost the nerve while trying to come to the point?
Too many times, we’re guessing, and so has everyone.
Writing concise emails doesn’t only save your time; it also saves the recipient’s time. More importantly, brevity gets to the point directly, which is the whole point of messaging, as it were.
Including a previous signature to the message is another way to save time. When it comes to the contents of the message, start with a short greeting and proceed directly to the point. Add the signature with additional contact details for an effective closing.
Avoid sentences that can be avoided, fillers, complicated phrases and academic writing. Make your emails simple, clear and concise.
Finally, make use of the subject line. As a rule, they are the most important part of the email. Keeping in mind that the recipient will be “scanning” the inbox rather than reading the messages, your subject line needs to stand out if you are looking for a fast response.
It should also state the topic. Avoid generic and meaningless phrases like “hello there,” “it’s Mike from [company name],” as they don’t give the recipient a clue about the contents of your email.
Email is a great service encompassing multiple benefits. Not only does it allow for instant communication, but it also solves urgent issues in a matter of minutes.
However, it is also a source of spam and advertising – the two factors you should avoid like the plague during working hours.
The whole philosophy of increasing your productivity while using email and task management tools only to that end lies in brevity, efficient time management and prioritizing. Use a calendar to help you get started and adjust your routine until you’ve come up with the perfect formula. It’s that simple.