I am always looking for ways to streamline my life and not waste time with repetitive tasks that could be streamlined or even eliminated. When you think about it, one of the greatest consumers of your time is processing your email. A 2020 research report from the McKinsey Global Institute showed that email is the second-most time-consuming activity next to ‘role-specific tasks.”
Back when email was new, and our computers chimed with “You’ve Got Mail” messages, we jumped to see who was trying to reach us. The novelty quickly wore off as we began to get hundreds of email messages, many of whom were not essential and served only as a distraction. That is still the case, but an annual Adobe consumer email report indicates that many of us are becoming more email savvy:
- Users check emails 27% less than they did in 2016, with the most significant change in the habit of checking email less outside of work
- Four-fifths (82%) of work-related emails, and two-thirds (60%) of personal emails are opened. Of these opened messages, work-related emails are significantly more likely to be read than personal emails (83% compared to 64%, respectively)
- The survey found a 28% decrease in checking emails in bed after waking up. More than a quarter of respondents said they waited until getting to work to look at their inbox
- Nearly a third (26%) of respondents said they don’t check email after work (up 46% on 2016)
I have a few other suggestions that might help you tame the email beast.
Use multiple email accounts.
I have an email address for my business and other professional endeavors. I have a personal email account for close friends and family. I have a third email account for newsletters that I want to read eventually and a fourth email account for the times when merchants want my email to send me coupons and other offers.
Empty your primary email accounts every day.
That doesn’t mean you have to answer every email, but you need to try to review all of your emails every day. Those that require your response should go to your to-do list. Those that are urgent should get an immediate response. Junk emails should be deleted immediately.
Build time into your schedule to review and respond to email.
Resist the temptation to ‘snack on email’ all day or check it throughout the day. I’ve always checked and processed email at the beginning and end of my day. I might check it at noon to make sure there isn’t anything urgent, but if my emails appear routine, they can wait for my afternoon review.
If you worry that not responding quickly to your email and how that might appear to customers and clients, you could follow Tim Ferriss’ advice in THE FOUR-HOUR WORK WEEK. He sets up this automatic email reply:
“Due to high workload, I am currently checking and responding to email twice daily at noon ET [or your time zone] and 4:00 pm ET.
If you require urgent assistance (please ensure it is urgent) that cannot wait until either 12:00 pm or 4:00 pm, please contact me via phone at 555-555-5555.”
David Allen’s GETTING THINGS DONE methodology offers a three-step approach to processing email:
Step 1 – Capture
Your email inbox is where potential tasks, ideas, or projects enter your workflow.
We need first to establish that our inbox is an in-basket that we need to regularly check to stay on top of things. An actionable email will result in a next step that can be broken down into smaller tasks.
Step 2 – Clarify each email by asking, “Can I do something about this email?”
No: delete or archive it.
Yes: move onto the next step.
Step 3 – Organize. “Can I do this under 2 minutes?”
Yes: Do it now.
Reply it -> Archive it, or move it to an appropriate folder
If the sent email requires a follow-up, set a follow-up reminder, and/or add it with your task manager
OR Delegate it -> Archive it.
OR Do the required task -> Archive it.
No: Do it later.
Defer it -> Add a Reminder to the email and sync it with your preferred task manager -> Archive it.
OR Use inbox features like email snoozing to have them reappear in your inbox later.
If preferred, attach a note for yourself in the email, so you don’t have to read the entire email again.
Templates save you a lot of time.
Another method I use to save time is to prepare templates for commonly received emails. When I managed a radio station, I would frequently get requests from people who wanted to be on the air. I had a standard response to that. I didn’t need to recreate it every time I received such an email. The same thing applied to emails with comments about our programming or an on-air person who the writer liked or didn’t like. Now that I am providing consulting services, I respond with templates for people who want to meet with me or write guest posts for my blogs. Templates can easily be set up using macros or just having a document that you save all of your responses. Recently, I’ve started using Text Expander, which has simplified my process.
Unsubscribe from email newsletters you no longer read.
This is a small thing, but I’m always surprised at how many things that were once important to me are no longer of interest.
Don’t feel the need to respond to every email you receive.
If someone sends you an email with information that requires no action on your part, read it, and file it if necessary. But you don’t need to reply with “thanks” unless you want to be super polite. It just clutters the other person’s mailbox. One can only hope that he or she will stop doing it to you.
Email has been around long enough that we no longer have to view it as a priority any more than the arrival of snail mail signaled a hard stop in offices of decades ago.
What other tips do you have for controlling the onslaught of email?