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Email is one of those things that started off as a convenience feature but quickly became something to dread. I know that when I have hundreds of unread emails, my gut quickly sinks into a deep void and I ignore those emails for even longer. But maybe if we were to adopt the tips and tricks of the pros of email, we would not view our inbox as an obstacle.
There are a lot of factors that play into email efficiency – not just writing the emails, but setting up the inbox, managing emails, knowing when to check emails, and more. Boosting email efficiency means boosting productivity, and that ultimately means getting everything done in less time. That’s exactly what we want.
Note: One aspect of being a pro at email is to stay safe and secured. Read these 7 important email security tips before getting started here. Losing access to your email account can be extremely detrimental.
Schedule “Email Checking” Time
One of the greatest blunders of users who have extremely active inboxes is that they will leave their Gmail, Thunderbird or Postbox open 24/7 and running in the background. Another blunder is the use of notification addons or features that will alert you the minute an email arrives, no matter how trivial that email might be.
Undeniable fact: frequently checking in on your emails means you can’t dedicate focus to another task. Undeniable fact: if you ever do manage to build focus, notifications will break it in an instant.
Therefore, you should view your inbox as an activity like any other. Don’t allow it to be an “always on” aspect of your life. Instead, schedule blocks of time – maybe once a day, maybe three times a day – where you check into the inbox, do everything you need, then close it. It may take a while to break the habit but, trust me, your productivity will skyrocket.
Eliminate the Excess
The very first thing you should do when opening your inbox is to quickly skim it and delete every email that doesn’t seem important. Think of yourself as a sculptor with a huge block of fresh marble. Before you start on the real work, you need to hack away in broad strokes and get rid of the excess.
Imagine checking in and finding 350 emails waiting for a response. All it takes is five minutes – yes, really! – to skim through and click the checkboxes next to emails that hold no importance. When you’ve gotten through the bulk of it, click on Delete to erase all of those checked emails. Now you only need to respond to 50 and that’s a big psychological boost.
Read and Reply Immediately
Do you often open up an email, see that you need to do something, but leave it for another day? This can be a risky habit. What if you forget about it? What if you lose the email somehow? What if you need to respond sooner than you think you need to?
Better to do it all immediately. It prevents the buildup of “I still need to answer that email” thoughts that will nag away at you until you finally get around to it. It reduces the chance that you forget about an important email. It keeps your clients, friends, and business contacts happy because you reply with such punctuality. As a bonus, you’ll have a big load off your mind.
With a clean and empty inbox that isn’t cluttered with messages to which you need to return, you can more easily implement the earlier point of only checking email at scheduled times. If you really don’t want to read and reply immediately, then at least look into an email reminder addon.
Canned responses is an amazing feature that has become something of a standard in all of the top email services and clients. Basically, a canned response is a template reply that you can build ahead of time and use with a single click. These are great when you find yourself typing the same reply over and over, such as when people frequently send questions about a particular topic.
You can enable Canned Responses in Gmail by toggling it in the Labs section of the settings. Yaara has written an instructional post on how to get started with Canned Responses in Gmail.
Keep It Brief
The best way to cut down on the time that email sucks away from you: spend less time writing replies. Of course, don’t sacrifice proper business or personal etiquette by writing terse responses, but you also don’t need to write 5-10 paragraphs for every email you send. Email is less formal than traditional letters!
Identify the main message you want to get across, then try to get it to the recipient in one to three paragraphs maximum. You know how you’re having such a hard time slogging through so many emails? Well, the recipient is probably facing the same problem. Not only does shortening your emails save on your time, it saves their time as well, and they’ll be grateful for it.
Use Filters to Organize
Utilizing the power of filters can revolutionize your email workflow. In essence, a filter looks at every incoming email and, if it meets the criteria of the filter, performs an action on it. This action could be moving the email to a certain folder or setting a particular label. The criteria of a filter can include who the sender is, the subject of the email, the body content, etc.
Filters are a fantastic method of keeping your inbox organized. Do you receive a lot of newsletter updates from retail chains, notifications from social media, or electronic bills? Filters can keep those emails separate from your inbox, drastically cutting down on the amount of emails you need to slog through. Plus, there’s less of a chance that you’ll delete one of those accidentally.
Check out Craig’s post on how to set up and use Gmail filters.
Email is a simple technology but there are advanced ways to go about it. The most important thing about being an email pro is to identify where most of your time is being spent and find ways to cut down on that time. Hopefully the tips outlined above and a few more email efficiency tips we had covered earlier will help you to see where your time is sinking and how to combat that inefficiency.
What about you? Do you have any tricks or routines that you use to maximize your email productivity? Please share them in the comments!