Feb 5 2014, 11:28am CST | by Forbes
Does it sometimes feel like email is taking over your life? Considering that reading and responding to email accounts for about 28% of our total workweek, this isn’t much of an exaggeration.
The good news is that there are practical and proven ways to help reduce the time you spend dealing with email. Most will take a little planning and a commitment to simplifying your daily email routine, but all are easily within your reach.
1. Create an email filing system that prioritizes actions
Of course, there are many possible ways to organize your emails. One way is to create the following 2 folders:
All other emails, once read, should go directly to their appropriate permanent files using rules (see #5 below), or should be manually filed in their final resting place. Take this one step further by hiring a personal assistant to check and sort all your emails for you. Anything not requiring your attention shouldn’t get your attention, and this is a great way to reduce existential overhead.
2. Unsubscribe from everything
I’m not actually suggesting that you unsubscribe from absolutely everything, however this sounded more intriguing than ‘unsubscribe from everything that’s not absolutely necessary’.
I’m not talking about spam email here; those you should not unsubscribe from. Unsubscribing from spam is, best case scenario, an indication to spammers that there’s a live person at the other end of the email. Worst case, they take you to a website that attacks your computer.
What I’m talking about is unsubscribing from every list that doesn’t offer solid value for your business. Ask yourself, “Have I ever received valuable business advice from this site?” If your answer is no, you know what to do.
Services like Unroll.Me will give you a complete list of emails you’re subscribed to for easy editing.
3. Turn off notifications
Resist the temptation to receive notifications on your desktop and mobile devices. Research shows that when you’re interrupted from a task (by anything, not just email), the task will be resumed, on average, 23 minutes and 15 seconds later. While this seems a high number for simply checking your email, there’s no doubt that interrupting a task leads to a loss of concentration and a decline in productivity levels.
If you still fear missing a critical email, feel free to set up an autoresponder re-directing all urgent matters to your phone.
One final note: turning off notifications also means turning off all social media notifications that come to your email. Hopefully you already have a set time to deal with social media, so turning off email notifications shouldn’t be a big deal.
4. Limit the length of your responses
Keep it short and sweet. What’s the main point of your email? What action do you want the recipient to take? What critical facts do you need to get across in your email?
Cut the chitchat. If you really want to save time and increase your productivity, don’t worry about the pleasantries.
One way to ensure you limit the length of your responses is to give yourself a hard and fast limit: whether that’s 3 sentences or 5 doesn’t really matter. The point is that you have a limit and that you’re sticking to it.
5. Use email rules
While most folks know about setting up email rules (such as filters within Gmail), many of us fail to use them effectively. Rules are simply automatic actions your email software will take depending on what guidelines you’ve set up.
Some rules that will help you increase your email productivity may include:
6. Set a time to check and respond to all emails
This is another one of those tips that everyone has heard about, but that no one actually does. But given how much time and concentration we stand to lose when we check email haphazardly, it’s definitely worth doing.
Choose a couple times during the day when you’ll deal with your email: typically in the morning and then once right before the end of the workday. If this feels undoable to you, keep in mind that Tim Ferris of the 4-Hour Workweek has an autoresponder indicating that he’ll check personal email once per day, and business email every 7-10 days!
7. Empty your inbox at the end of each day
Starting the day with the current day’s email load is more than enough! During your scheduled block of email time, make sure you bring your inbox count down to zero so you can start fresh the next morning.
If you’ve set up prioritized folders as mentioned in #1, and are making good use of email rules (#5), this should be manageable. Any messages that need to be dealt with should be either moved or responded to, so you can do it all over again tomorrow.
8. Have various email signatures ready to go
As a business owner, it’s very likely you wear more than one hat. You may have your ‘personal’ hat, your ‘business owner’ hat, and even your ‘other business-owner’ hat if you run more than one business.
You may also want to have different signatures for colleagues, clients or customers – not that your personal or contact info will change, but you may want to include links to different content or different promotions depending on the recipient.
Creating email signatures for each ‘hat’ and having them ready to go will save you tons of time and annoyance when you’re composing or responding to emails. This is easily doable within Gmail’s interface, which I personally use and prefer.
9. Use software to monitor urgent emails
If you’re still hung up on #6 (only checking email at set times), this is a tip specifically for you: Use software like AwayFind to make absolutely certain you’re not missing anything urgent.
Here’s how it works: You tell AwayFind what people or topics you don’t want to miss. The software then sends you an SMS, instant message, smartphone alert or even a phone call when you receive emails matching these criteria; you can even decide how quickly you want to be notified. The software will even help you determine which emails are the most important.
For more productivity tips and hacks, see my articles:
Do you use any or all of the productivity tips above? What’s missing from the list? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below.
Image source: howtomobile.apps.gov (public domain)
Source: Forbes Business
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