You know the feeling: You open your morning inbox, and hundreds of emails demand your attention. It feels like a crowd of people shouting at you and demanding instantaneous replies. You can’t see them, but the pressure — and the guilt, if you don’t respond right away — feels real.
It’s no wonder: Email consumes us. The average person checks personal email an average of 2.5 hours on a typical weekday. On top of that, they’re spending an average of 3.1 hours checking work email, according to a 2018 survey byAdobeof 1,000 white-collar workers nationwide. That’s more than 15 hours per week or 62 hours per month.
“When it comes to distraction in the workplace, email overload is public enemy #1,” says Jocelyn K. Glei, author of the bookUnsubscribe, which examines the psychology behind email addiction.
Gayle Lantz, founder ofWorkmatters, Inc.and author of Take the Bull by the Horns, agrees: “You should be the driver of your activities at work each day, not your inbox.”
You could easily spend all day on emails. But you shouldn’t, especially if you intend to be identified as someone who has the potential to elevate your career and move to the C-Suite. The constant distractions not only interrupt work flow, but they also lower productivity, interfere with strategic thinking, and heighten stress.
Think about it this way: Email is everyone else’sTo Do list. Not yours. If you haven’t seen this latestvideoby Ashton Kutcher, check it out.
Depending on your circumstances, here are some quick tips to changing your approach to email and gaining at least 2+ hours back in your day!
Tip #1:If you want fewer emails, send fewer (and shorter) emails. Duh, right? This is the golden rule of email management. Good email habits mean you’ll spend less time writing and responding to messages. It also requires promoting effectivecommunication strategies in your workplace. Gently tell team members who send long emails that you’d appreciate that emails be no longer than a paragraph or two. Or, invite them to stop by your office to talk in person.
Tip #2:Pick up the phone. If you are spend more than 30 minutes drafting an email to someone or anticipate a few back-and-forth emails, consider whether it might be better handled as a 5-minute phone call.
Tip #3:Organized folders = Time Management. My ability to tackle the “email to do list” has made great strides since I set up individual folders for team members and for clients/projects. If you know the majority of your time should be spent on client-facing tasks or specific goals, your system should reflect that. If you have an assistant, his/his emails should be sent to a folder for when you are ready to tackle the administrative tasks in your day. The folders instantly create a time management system.
Tip #4:Schedule email time. Like any other task, it’s helpful to block out specific times on your calendar to respond to emails (first thing in the morning, before lunch, at the end of the workday). Save the times when you are most creative and alert for your big projects. This helps to keep your inbox at manageable levels and prevents it from overwhelming your day.
Tip #5:Merge messages. Another advantage of scheduling time to handle incoming correspondence is that you can see where multiple emails converge. In some instances, you’ll find that they can be handled simultaneously with a single message or phone call. And remember, on a group message – you do not need to be the first one to respond.
Tip #6:Use apps. Most email providers allow you toestablish rulesthat automatically sort and filter email, and there’s any number of apps geared to improving time management, automating your inbox, and providing shortcuts. Gmail’sPriority Inbox, for instance, allows you to more effectively manage your email and get rid of spam while itsInbox When Ready allows you to hide your inbox entirely while you go about other email tasks.Batched Inbox(motto: “Email is not the boss of you!”) lets you hide incoming emails until a set time each day, andInbox Pauseallows you to pause incoming mail without set times. Others includeTrove,Mailstrom, andClear Context. Other services includeMailinator,Trash Mail, andBoomerang.
Tip #7:Establish templates. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel with every email. Most are probably variations on a theme, so you can set up standardgeneric responsesthat can be personalized and sent. You also can use system-widetext expandersthat replace short text with commonly used phrases so you don’t have to repeat yourself…I’m in love!
Tip #8:Develop Best Practices. Share a list of email best practices with your team. Are there certain topics your team should send via BCC to avoid an unnecessary group thread from taking over your inbox? Do your team members know when to copy you and most importantly, when not to copy you? Email threads often become unmanageable when everyone who is copied on an email begins to respond. Think carefully about who really needs to receive an email and whom you expect to respond. Another quick tip, if you don’t expect a response to an email, use “FYI” in the subject line and make it clear to your team members that when you include “FYI” in the subject line, you do not expect a response. Start building a list of best practices and review the outline together.
Tip #9:Switch it off. It may help to disable audible alerts about incoming messages. You also may be able to set up your software to “receive” messages only at certain times, too. Explain to staff and clients that you check email at prescheduled times but can always be reached by phone or instant messages for urgent matters.
Tip #10:Try the “Two-Minute Rule.” If an email will take less than two minutes to read and reply to, take care of it immediately. It will take just as long to read and add it to your To Do list. When sending a request that will take no longer than 1 minute, add “Quick Question:The Topic” to the subject line, your recipient will appreciate it and you will receive a quicker response.
Tip #11:Set expectations. Resist the urge to instantly respond to emails or that’s what people will come to expect — to your detriment. It’s neither productive or achievable to answer everyone all day, every day. Responding in a timely manner is more appropriate and just as acceptable.
Tip #12:Outsource. It’s fine to delegate some email communications to trusted team members and outside (even virtual) assistants as long as you are clear about guidelines.
Tip #13:Automate follow-ups. Here’s some advice fromCarson Tate, author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style: “When you send an email where you need a response from the recipient, cc yourself on that email. That email will then be automatically saved in a folder you have designated for all of your follow-ups. No longer will you spend hour searching through sent messages or trying to remember if you have followed up on your open requests. Your follow-up will be automatic.”
Tip #14:Aggregate. Check out apps likemyMailorBoxer, which lets you collect everything in one place and allows easy tapping and swiping to manage messages. Another option isSaneBox, which places less important messages in a separate folder for later review.
I’m not suggesting that you work off the grid entirely to boost productivity. But as an executive recruiter who receives on average 400 emails/day and committed to my clients, I know the importance of keeping my sanity as it relates to email management.
The more clear you are about your work, the easier it becomes to manage email. And the better you manage your email, the more time you will have for the things that matter most to you.
What is your best email management tip? Please share!