It’s difficult to imagine modern work life without email.
For many tasks, this easy, efficient, round-the-clock means of communication is indispensable. However, email overload carries a substantial cost – as inbox volume rises, so does stress, and productivity plummets.
The average white-collar worker spends more than four hours each weekday checking work email, according to an Adobe survey. If you could get even a fraction of that time back, what could you do with it?
Try rebooting your approach to email so you spend less time in your inbox while getting more out of it. The keys include clearing out clutter, setting limits on when and how you email, optimizing workflows and making technology work for you.
Stop checking email (so often)
It’s all too easy to spend hours staring at your inbox. Start by limiting email checks to two or three a day. Keep these checks brief, using them to ensure you’re on top of urgent situations, and sit down to process email only once each day. Notice how your efficiency changes.
Get the email that matters
When you do check email, ensure you’re seeing the messages that matter. Email programs such as Outlook allow users to sort and direct messages to subfolders. If you have a staff, follow the lead of Michael Hyatt and direct emails your team can handle to a subfolder they manage, while keeping the items you need to handle on your plate. If you don’t have this luxury, you can still use the concept to direct emails from priority contacts to your inbox and filter the rest to lower-priority folders. Here are some other tech tools that can help.
Develop a workflow
The Asian Efficiency model uses a simple filing system to help you attain Inbox Zero. Even if an empty inbox isn’t your goal, you can prioritize, organize and eliminate overload. To start, you need three folders: “Reply,” “Waiting,” and “Archive.” Immediately deal with emails you can handle in fewer than two minutes, then move them to “Archive.” File emails that require more thought or time in the “Reply” folder. Place emails for which you’re awaiting a response or those you simply need to retain in the “Waiting” folder. If it helps, print the workflow and keep it in a prominent spot.
Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe
Once you have a workflow and a system for prioritizing, you’ll want to focus on overall volume and the time you spend on it. Periodically review newsletters and promotional sends you may be receiving, and unsubscribe from those that don’t truly benefit you. Be ruthless. The clutter contributes to email overload.
Deal with only what you must
Many emails don’t need a reply, and any replies contribute to someone else’s email overload. Give yourself a break and respond only if the cost of not doing so outweighs the benefit of simply archiving the message.
If you respond to many emails with similar replies, you might be able to create prewritten templates you can copy, paste and send, rather than starting an email from scratch. Examples include replies to speaking requests or perhaps an acknowledgement of feedback from your website. Even if some messages must be customized, it’s a time saver to have the bulk of the email prewritten.
Mastered your inbox? Now make sure to use it right
Once you’ve tackled email management, consider another goal worth your time: Don’t use email when you shouldn’t. Email is great for many tasks, but for some it’s all wrong. Complaints, criticism and bad news are all better shared and acknowledged in person. Whether your role is as a leader or colleague, you owe your team face time for difficult conversations, and in these scenarios, you’ll find direct communication is far more effective.
Share what works for you
Have you mastered your inbox? Tell us how in the comments!