The time allocated to processing email grows to fill up what ever space you allocate to it. It comes as no surprise that lots of knowledge workers can spend an entire day just tending to email. Email is only a tool to facilitate your work. Don’t let it become your work! It therefore becomes essential to optimize email productivity by minimizing time spent on it while accomplishing all that is necessary.
- Step 1 – Organize Your Email Folders
- Step 2 – Get Your Inbox Under Control
- Step 3 – Eliminate Email Distractions
- Step 4 – Process Your Emails Effectively
- Email Productivity Hack#9 – Process emails GTD style
- Email Productivity Hack#10 – Set a designated time for processing and scanning emails.
- Email Productivity Hack#11 – Only handle emails once.
- Email Productivity Hack#12 – Process email top down or latest first
- Email Productivity Hack#13 – Follow the order and do not skip emails when processing
- Email Productivity Hack#14 – Designate the device where you will process your emails
- Step 5 – Write Effective Emails
- Step 6 – Communicating Your Expectations to Others
- Step 7 – Going to the Next Level
The following are email productivity hacks for entrepreneurs or busy people which can be incorporated into a daily routine to maximize overall productivity.
Step 1 – Organize Your Email Folders
Your first step in optimizing your email productivity is setting up the appropriate email folders. This will help in facilitating your processing and reduce overall clutter.
Email Productivity Hack #1 – Create an effective email folder system
Ideally you should have the following 4 email folders, in addition to your default archive folder;
- “Next Actions” Folder- This is where you store mails that require you to take next actions. These are emails that require more than 2 minutes to act on.
- “Waiting For” Folder – This is where you can store mails that you have taken action but are waiting for a response from someone else. You could use reminders to alert you when you need to follow up on your delegated mails.
- “Someday/Maybe” Folder – This is where you store non-urgent mails that would require your attention in the future. As an example, you have received a solicitation to attend a conference being held in 3 months. You want to this within a month. As such, you can store the mail in this folder and add a reminder for a month.
- “To Read” Folder – This is where you can store emails which you want to read at a later date. It could be a report that interests you.
- All other emails should be archived or stored in the least amount of folders. Do not get carried away with creating too many email folders.
Further folder tips;
- D0 not create sub-folders. Endeavour to keep your folder structure as flat as possible
- You could consider creating project archive folders. This will result in you having lots of archive folders.
- If you feel resistance to process your email, you may have over-complicated your folders and filing system. Processing email into the appropriate folders should be an easy and seamless task
- Always look for ways to simplify your folder system. Trust the built-in search function in your email application
Email Productivity Hack #2 – Capture reference material in Evernote or OneNote
Evernote is probably more appropriately used with non corporate email systems. You can send emails with reference material or links, directly into Evernote. You need to send these mails to your Evernote email. Go to Evernote settings to get your Evernote email address.
Add the appropriate tags so that you could find the information easily.
Step 2 – Get Your Inbox Under Control
Your most important step in optimizing email productivity is to get your inbox under control. Your “Inbox” is defined as the folder where your incoming mail is temporarily stored, pending processing. It is a transient storage for your email.
Optimum email productivity is achieved when mail stored in the inbox is processed in a timely manner. The processing of these mails involves you taking immediate action when possible to be done in less than 2 minutes, storing in a folder for action at a later date, delegating, deleting or archiving.
Email Productivity Hack #3 – Get Your Inbox to Zero.
A “zero inbox” or “inbox zero”, is defined as when you do not have anymore mails to process in your inbox. Your could also consider the goal of “inbox zero” achieved when you do not have an average of more than 10 messages in your inbox.
This essentially means processing the mail in your inbox and moving it to the appropriate folders. It does not mean that you have taken action on the mails. It just means that you have categorized the mails according to the actions necessary for those mails.
Here are some suggestions to quickly and effectively get your inbox down to zero;
- You should process mails you have received in the last 2 to 4 weeks. This is where you will find the most current and relevant mails.
- Move all mails between 4 to 8 weeks into a folder called “2 months ago”. You could quickly glance through the headings to spot mails you may have missed that need your urgent attention. Leave the rest of the mails in this folder. If something has been in your inbox for more than 4 weeks, it can’t be that urgent.
- Move all mail 8 weeks and above into a folder called “3 months ago”. You should not need to act on these mails. Any action that may have been required is probably not necessary any more.
- Work diligently according to the guidelines presented in this article, to keep your inbox at zero.
- After you have been processing your emails and effectively keeping your inbox at zero for a month, archive earlier email. Move all the mails from folders “2 months ago” and “3 months ago” into your archives. You can always find an email with the “Search” function should you require it.
There is no greater feeling than an inbox that is empty. The sense of relief and control is unparalleled. You need to only experience this feeling once and it will motivate and discipline you continuously seek a “zero inbox”.
Email Productivity Hack # 4 – Review and manage email subscriptions
You are not alone if you find that you are not able to stay on top of all the emails you have subscribed. The best way to manage this is by using a tool such as Unroll.me. When you enter your email into the tool, it will scan for subscribed mails. It will then give you the option of unsubscribing, keeping the subscription or consolidating the subscribed mails into a single daily digest. In order to effectiovely filter these subscriptions, consider the following criteria;
- Unsubscribe from mails that you have never or hardly read.
- Keep Subscription of mails that are ultra important to you and must be visible when appearing in your inbox. These could be your financial statements or other important notifications.
- Consolidate into Unroll.me digest all the mails that you want to review periodically. Unroll.me will consolidate all such mails into a single daily digest that you can quickly review at one go. Upon reviewing you decide to archive the digest or delete it all together.
This one exercise alone will immediately tremendously reduce the clutter in your inbox.
You will very likely not be able to use Unroll.me for your ultra high security corporate mails. In this case, you will need to manually search and unsubscribe to the unwanted mails.
Email Productivity Hack#5 – Strive for inbox close to zero on a daily basis
Focus on processing your emails to achieve an inbox close to zero by the end of the day. You will leave work with the peace of mind that your email is under control.
Email Productivity Hack#6 – Strive for inbox zero before your weekly review
The weekly review is based on the GTD concept of reviewing your activities of the current week and planning for the coming week. This is one of the most useful activities you could do to elevate your productivity levels. In order to be effective at your weekly review, you must ensure that your inbox is at zero.
Step 3 – Eliminate Email Distractions
A high level of concentrated focus is key to high levels of productivity. All forms of distractions that diminish your power of focus, should be reduced or eliminated completely.
Email Productivity Hack #7 – Turn off email alerts and notifications.
Email alerts and notifications tempt you to keep returning to your inbox This can happen quite frequently considering the random manner in which emails are received. The 2 main reasons to turn off alerts and notifications are;
- Alerts and notifications will disrupt your focus. You will be tempted to look at the mail received and thus distracted from the task you were earlier occupied with. According to a study from the University of California regarding disruptions and focus, it takes up to an average of 23 minutes to get back to a task in the office after a disruption.
- You will be most productive in processing your emails when you are in “email processing” mode. Email processing should ideally be done at fixed intervals during your day. This will ensure that you are able to quickly and effectively deal with the mails in your inbox.
Email Productivity Hack#8 – Resist the urge to reply immediately
Leave email processing for the designated time. If you do scan a urgent email that needs your immediate action, flag it. Wait until you are at your email processing device. Almost everyone can accept a 1 day response time.
Step 4 – Process Your Emails Effectively
Email Productivity Hack#9 – Process emails GTD style
Processing of emails should follow a logical flow. The GTD method is highly recommended here. Process your emails according to the following guidelines;
- Immediately decide whether the email requires an action. If it requires action, decide if its something you can do or if it needs to be delegated.
- Act on it immediately if it can be done within 2 minutes.
- Else move it to the “Next Actions” folder.
- If it needs to be delegated, do it immediately and move the mail to the “Waiting For” folder.
- Decide if its something you need to review at a later stage, If this is the case, move the mail to the “Someday/Maybe” folder.
- You could send reference material to be stored on Evernote/OneNote. All other emails should either be archived or deleted.
Email Productivity Hack#10 – Set a designated time for processing and scanning emails.
As mentioned earlier, the main goal of email processing is to get your inbox to zero. The main task of email scanning is to flag out ultra urgent emails.
You should ideally process emails twice a day. Processing email is a low quality task and should not be done first thing in the morning when your mental resources are at its highest. You could process email at say 12 to 1 pm and then again for a half hour before you leave the office.
You could scan through your mails once or twice a day to ensure you do not miss out those ultra urgent mails. Your could carry out your first scan before you start at work. Be weary not to be sucked into opening your inbox and mindlessly looking at all emails.
Email Productivity Hack#11 – Only handle emails once.
As soon as you check your email, you should process it. Reviewing emails without processing it wastes mental resources. You will consume mental resources if you need to come back to the mail a second or third time. Focus and attention are limited resources and diminish as you go through the day.
Email Productivity Hack#12 – Process email top down or latest first
Processing the latest mail first ensures that you are able to process the latest “forwarded” mail which may already have earlier mail history. It also forces you to be disciplined when processing emails. Such discipline is essential to ensure that you have the stamina to completely process your emails once started.
Email Productivity Hack#13 – Follow the order and do not skip emails when processing
This forces you to focus and be disciplined to complete the processing. Resist the temptation to process the easier mails first. Your attention and focus is a limited resource. It depletes as you use it. If you jump around from one mail to another, you will find it getting more difficult to process your mails as you get to the more complicated ones. Processing your emails in a systematic manner will build your email processing stamina.
Email Productivity Hack#14 – Designate the device where you will process your emails
Avoid processing your emails on every mobile devices. The worst device to process your email is probably your phone. Unless you have a mobile keyboard, it will probably not be conducive for effective processing of emails. If you must have your email on your phone, only use it for scanning and not processing. In this case, set your phone email app to show at least the first 3 lines of a mail.
Your Ipad or laptop is probably better suited for email processing.
Step 5 – Write Effective Emails
Email Productivity Hack#15 – Headings must effectively summarize the content
The heading of your email must effectively summarize the contents of the email. The best heading is one where the reader can capture the essence of your message without reading the message itself. Do not forward mails with strange headings or headings which are not related to the content of your message.
Email Productivity Hack#16 – Make reading your mail message easy
Follow the following rules for effective email writing;
- Construct sentences such that you can avoid using commas. This will force you to keep your sentences short.
- Use simple words
- Use effective headings to break up long emails.
- Long emails should have a summary upfront.
- Limit each paragraph to 3 to 4 sentences.
- Use bullets liberally
Write emails that are so clear that even a ten year old child will be able to understand it.
Email Productivity Hack#17 – Be judicious when copying mails
There is a tendency to copy everyone into emails. You need to be considerate when adding someone into the email “cc”. Would the person being copied really benefit from the information being presented. Most of the time, mails are copied to bosses to score brownie points. It would probably be better to give your boss a weekly summary and attach the relevant mails. Your boss would have less clutter in his inbox and would probably appreciate the effort better.
Email Productivity Hack#18 – Summarize upfront
In an age where there everyone faces email overload, summarizing your message in the first paragraph would be very much appreciated. This goes against what you are thought in school where the summary is done in the last paragraph. Endeavor to capture the gist of your message in the first paragraph and elaborate details in the preceding paragraphs.
Step 6 – Communicating Your Expectations to Others
Email Productivity Hack#19 – Tell your colleagues of your email expectations
Inform your colleagues and subordinates of how you would like to handle emails. Subordinates would probably try and copy you on lots of emails. Make it clear to them on which mails you would like to be copied. Suggest the importance of having a clear and concise heading. Inform of your response time.
Email Productivity Hack#20 – The more you send the more you get
Think before you send out a mail. Avoid sending mails back and forth if the matter can be addressed quickly via a phone call. An example is trying to set up a meeting where the correspondents are discussing about the possible venue, time, etc.
Step 7 – Going to the Next Level
Email Productivity Hack#21 – Select the appropriate mobile email app
It is very likely that you will be using your mobile device to process or scan your emails. It is important that you get the appropriate mobile email app that serves your requirements. You have many worthy email app choices for the IOS or Android platforms.
Email Productivity Hack#22 – Do not use your inbox for project or task management
Avoid using your inbox to manage your team, subordinates or projects. The challenge comes in when you need to track activities related to mails you have delegated to others. Tracking of emails sent out can be easily done in Outlook by converting it to an Outlook Task. This is done easily by dragging the mail into the Task folder.
Email Productivity Hack#23 – Working in-sync with other productivity tools
Take your email to the next level by incorporating it into your overall productivity system. Your email system has the task of allowing communication. All levels of task management, storage of references should be done in the other relevant parts of your productivity systems. Do not use your inbox for personal management.