From highly effective communication tool to a time consuming chore, the E-mail inbox has travelled a long way. As the E-mail program became more and more sophisticated, we stared using it in innovative ways – until it went out of control. Most of us realize that if not kept in control e-mail can quickly turn into an overhead and a serial time killer.
The Radicati Group estimates that employees send, on average, 37 work-related emails a day and receive 78. Even if you spend only a minute per email, that’s still nearly two hours of your day spent on correspondence. Multiply this by number of days you work in a year and you are spending nearly 20 days with your e-mail (pessimistically assuming checking e-mail 20 days a month).
Quite astonishing! You could probably take another vacation with that kind of time.
Saving time from your e-mail can be a big productivity booster. Here are 10 best practices I have compiled together to give you a head start:
1. Unsubscribe from all marketing and promotional e-mails unless absolutely necessary. Reading even one useless e-mail is a waste of mental energy. If some e-mails don’t stop coming in, mark them Spam and the e-mail service will promptly land them in your Spam folder.
2. For blog posts you can subscribe to RSS feed in services such as Feedly. You can read your favorite blog articles while on the go by downloading the Feedly iPhone/iPad/Android app. It’s an awesome reading experience!
3. Don’t store any useful information such as project reference material, e-tickets, receipts, invoices or word documents in your e-mail. Unknowingly I starting storing a lot of reference material in my e-mail inbox. Later on to my dismay, I realized that I invited total disorganization because half of my reference material was still outside e-mails. Then I took all the reference material out of e-mail in Dropbox and Evernote. How good I felt!
4. Process your e-mail inbox to zero. Your e-mail inbox is meant for processing, not for long time reading. Bring it to an empty state by processing each email with velocity. Here is how to do it:
- Do not spend more than 2 minutes per e-mail. Make quick decision (reply, store locally to review later, move to trash or archive)
- If you have to reply to an email, write it, hit the send button and quickly move on to the next e-mail.
- If you have to read a longer e-mail, forward it to your local system or tools such as Evernote and make an action item to read/respond to it later.
- If you find an e-mail thread particularly useful, archive it. You can use the search function to retrieve the archived e-mails later.
- Delete the rest. Don’t worry they are still in trash if you deleted some by mistake.
5. Send e-mails to others the way you want to receive. As much as possible, try to send short e-mail messages and encourage people to do so. I have been subjected to the e-mail horror myself with one conversations happening right inside an e-mail thread, going as long as 4o conversations. That’s terrible use of e-mail. If longer discussion or strategic thinking is needed, have a voice call or a chat conversation instead. If more detailed information needs to be conveyed such a proposal or estimates, use e-mail attachments.
6. Don’t create extensive labels and folders in your e-mail program (remove all of them if you can). The more colored labels and folders you try to organize in your e-mail, the more time you are going to need to maintain and clean them up, which is less likely (I tried and gave it up). Don’t get sophisticated with your e-mail. Keep it simple.
7. Do not use your e-mail to store project reminders or to-do lists. I have seen many people using their e-mails to remind them about something or store action items. E-mail is a communication tool, period. Do not use it to manage your task and reminders.
8. Check your e-mail once or twice a day. Many of us have this crazy habit of checking e-mail every now and then. Don’t be an e-mail maniac. Notice your ‘urge’ to check e-mail every-time it hits you and just let it go. Take a deep breath.
9. Don’t respond to every e-mail as soon as it arrives. Your e-mail is not a 24×7 support ticketing system. Use it with sanity. Not responding to every e-mail as soon as you receive will encouraged people to send only the most useful e-mails (without the timer associated with it). For urgent issues or quick questions, a short phone call or text message is sufficient.
10. Allocate a fixed time to your e-mail inbox. Imagine you are speed dating with your e-mail. Putting a time constraint to check your inbox allows you to focus on the most important e-mails quickly and not spending time on unimportant stuff.
A good way to encourage yourself begin incorporating these e-mail habits is to visualize the kind of things you will do with the time saved from e-mail processing. Even if you cut down your e-mail time to half, you could do a bunch of things – a new hobby, spending more time with your family, taking an evening walk or reading a book.
What do you want to do with your new found time?