About a year or two ago I looked at how email impacts my life.
I tried paying attention to how many minutes I spent on email.
The funny thing was I went into it with the mindset of “minutes”. You know, you spend a minute checking emails on your phone. You take a minute to respond to an email.
It didn’t take long to realize that the word I should have bee thinking was “hours”. It was upwards of 3-4 hours each day and sometimes more that I would spend occupied in some way by email. Let’s say you read and write 50-60 emails each day. It’s really not that much for someone in a professional setting. You receive 25, respond to say 15-20 and write an additional 10-15 new emails.
Say it takes 1-3 minutes to do all that and you’re quickly up into the hours every day. Add on to that all the times you check email and respond on your phone and things get a little crazy.
Now, email could certainly be part of your job. You might be in customer service, client success, sales and management and all kinds of things like that. If that’s the case and email is a core function then you’ll never get away from it, but some of the following tips could still help.
These tips are mostly for those that are spending time on email when that time should really be spent on other things. For business owners that might be spending time thinking about high level business objectives, doing something creative or working on strategy and projects.
Let’s get into some tips.
1. Turn Off Notifications
This has been a big one for me. And I know I’m not the only one that does this. When the iPhone first came out it seemed that everybody’s was buzzing and beeping all day long. If you didn’t have one you thought this person was getting all kinds of missed calls or texts. But really it was notifications for new emails.
Screw that. I don’t need to be interrupted for every email that comes through. I turn all notifications off for email on my phone and computer. If you do need certain emails to come through for urgency reasons you can usually change settings so that certain things get through.
What I’ve found is that there are a very few things in life that are urgent. You might make a few people annoyed, but they’ll get used to how often you respond.
2. Unsubscribe From All Promotional Emails
This was a big one for me and it kind of surprised me the number of simple promotional emails I subscribed to. All it took was unsubscribing from all them for about a week or maybe a month and that really cut back on email in the inbox.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of time to look at an email from Amazon or whatever, but add that up over a day, week and month and you’re losing a lot of time.
3. Set A Limit For News Sources
Another big one is subscribing to news and newsletters and things like that. I set a limit for myself of 3 subscriptions to newsletters. I don’t know if that’s the right number, but it works for me.
I usually have two definite ones and another experiment. If I really want to add a new source I force myself to unsubscribe to another. If I really miss it I’ll go back and add it and will usually get rid of the new one.
I do the same with social media too. I limit the number of accounts I follow so I don’t get bogged down.
4. Don’t Double Up On Email & Social Media Subscriptions
I found that in the old days I subscribed to email newsletters and followed the same source on social media. That really didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Sometimes I’ll prefer to subscribe via email, but other times following on Twitter or Facebook will make more sense. But you don’t often need to do both. It’s a little thing, but it adds up.
5. Two Inboxes Is Not A Bad Idea
I have one that I still keep for personal email and another that is for work. And I never really got away from that because it seems to work pretty well. I try not to check my personal email as much as work. Maybe I check that one once per day while I check the one for work more often.
I found that if you’re getting both work and personal all in one inbox it makes you open that inbox more often and you’re more likely to find more distractions. Like if I’m checking personal email on a Saturday and that is also my work inbox I’ll see work emails and that will take some energy and attention. That cuts into personal time.
And the opposite is true too. Personal emails can take attention away from work items.
6. No Email On The Phone
This is one I struggle with, but it works for me. I used to have the Mailbox app. That went out of commission and I didn’t replace it. I hide the Mail app on my phone so it’s out of sight and out of mind. I still find it, though, on occasion and fall into bad habits.
I do this mostly to separate work and personal life. When I’m doing something with family and friends my phone is out of sight. I try to be present with whatever I’m doing.
Phones are great, but I need to get away from it more than I need it.
7. When Working, Close Email Tab
As I write this post I have my email inbox tab closed. For me, it’s too easy to look over and see that little (1) or whatever in the tab. It pulls at my attention and every time a new email comes in I’ll have to stop what I’m doing and check it. That means cutting into my blogging time or whatever and it’s inefficient.
I do good with doing one thing at a time. When I try to jump back and forth my work suffers.
8. When Emailing, Close Other Tabs
And the opposite is true too. When I’m working in email I need to have other tabs closed. I do one thing at a time. I think it’s still okay to check Twitter, bank accounts and whatever, but I try to go at it one at a time. When I’m doing emails I’ll close all unessential tabs so I can concentrate and move on.
9. Cut Out Repetition
Anytime you find yourself writing the same thing in an email over and over it’s a good indication that you can change something so you don’t need to write that email anymore.
I found this out with inquiries at Ghost Blog Writers. I kept answering the same question, Do you brainstorm titles for posts?, over and over. I finally noticed this and added the answer to the website and I no longer had to answer that question as often with an email.
You can do this with all kinds of things. When employees ask the same question, put the answer on a shared drive where people can find it. They’ll stop emailing you.
10. Improve Writing Skills
Communicating via email is a skill. I know that I have the tendency to write too many words in an email. After a while the recipient starts losing the ability to focus especially if there are multiple subjects and questions and action items and the like.
I’ve tried to really simplify my email communication. I’m still working on it, but it helps. It’s a skill. You have to communicate what needs to be so people understand what you want without overdoing it.
There you have it. These are a few things that have worked for me to get more efficient with email. It certainly takes commitment and I’ll be honest…I fail at them from time to time. I catchy myself especially getting back into bad habits checking my email in the morning on my phone and I’ll have to get back to these basics. It’s not all science, but they do seem to really help me become more productive.