“Email is familiar. It’s comfortable. It’s easy to use. But it might just be the biggest killer of time and productivity in the office today.”
– Ryan Holmes
[toc]It’s not always all about the apps and add-ons, when you’re learning to manage your inbox like a pro. There are plenty more time-saving tips and techniques you can quickly put into practice.
Here’s twenty-one ideas—pick and choose the ones that grab you the most.
1. Create Groups
If you regularly need to send the same email to groups of people (e.g. clients, team members) consider creating groups so you can mass-mail to these very specific groups.
For Gmail groups, check out this YouTube tutorial. Follow this tutorial to create groups in Outlook 2016. And Mozilla gives very clear instructions (with screenshots) on creating mailing lists (the Thunderbird alternative to groups).
2. Make Email Templates
Do you send the same type of email, over and over? Like maybe, support answers? If so, take one of your sent emails (preferably the one that got the best response) and turn it into a generic email template that can be customized to suit. You can save emails as templates in Gmail by using the canned responses feature.
3. Clear Your Inbox First Thing
Delete everything you didn’t get around to reading first thing in the morning (or whenever you open your email for the day). Or else read them immediately—but don’t leave them cluttering up your inbox. If you didn’t read it immediately when you saw the subject, chances are it wasn’t important.
4. Turn Off Notifications
Don’t be reactive. If your email client or program gives you popup notifications (visual or audio) turn them off. Otherwise you risk becoming like Pavlov’s little dogs, training yourself with every ping to respond on cue. That goes for the notifications on your phone too. I’m serious.
5. Create a Specific Time Daily for Reading and Responding to Emails
Part of not being reactive (and creating a great new habit): Set aside a specific time slot for dealing with email. Time block it! Give yourself a start and finish time: If you do, you’ll most likely find that you grow much more efficient at getting through them quickly.
If you find yourself with time to spare after responding to the last one, reward yourself—go sit on the verandah with a glass of iced tea (or wine) and smell the roses, or go for a walk round the block—whatever fun activity you can fit into the remaining time in your email slot.
6. Make Search Your Best Friend
Keep things simple—if you want to find an email on a specific topic or from a specific person, just enter your keyword in the Search box, and hit Enter. Save yourself loads of time trying to sift through numerous emails.
7. Answer Immediately
Yes, that goes against the wisdom of setting aside a specific daily time period—but there’s a lot to be said for taking immediate action, if you can easily answer something in less than two minutes.
8. Create Subject Lines That Are Helpful—to You
Have you ever read through ninety emails from your best friend, trying to find the one that contains their new address—only to end up asking them for it—again? (And losing it—again.) You find nothing but a bunch of “hey” or “what’s up?”
If you know that feeling, write subject lines that will be highly significant to you for business, when you’re running a Search. Ask them for what you need specifically as the subject. (Example: “Interview Request March 2017-James Smith”—the latter being your guest’s name: Yes, the one you’re sending it to.)
9. Hold a Weekly “Unsubscribe Day”
You might only take five minutes—not a whole day—to unsubscribe from unwanted promo emails, but if you always designate the same day of the week to do all your unsubscribing, you’ll be five times more effective and efficient at it. During the week, drag emails to an unsubscribe folder so they are easy to find later on. If you do open the emails during your time block – just go ahead and unsubscribe.
10. Send “Closed” Emails for Business
This doesn’t mean you have to sound like a sergeant major, but if a communication is business-slanted, and you don’t want to be hooked into several chatty letters back and forth in response, keep your initial email or response short and to the point. Watch out that you don’t “invite” chatty responses. (Example: Commenting “Wow, this heat wave sure is tiring” at the beginning of an email, gives the impression that you have the time to chat and virtually begs your correspondent to write back telling you how hot (or cold) it is where she lives, and what she’s doing about it—with a personal question thrown in for you.)
On the other hand, finishing off with a nice, “closed” statement like “Stay cool in this heat!” feels friendly, but doesn’t invite a chatty response.
11. If it Needs to Be Documented, Email It
By all means, save yourself time by sending quick SMS text messages if all you need is the simple answer to a question—but if the answer is something you need to refer to later (or may need evidence of it), then use email.
12. Outsource Your Inbox
Create a Gmail account for certain types of non-confidential business communications. Create a folder for routine business emails that come in. Purchase a monthly block of time from a Virtual Assistant who specializes in email management—and have her manage that specific email account.
13. Don’t Always Use Email
Are you making clients cancel or change appointments via email? Don’t!
Use a self-scheduling service or app, so they can cancel and reschedule without the need for multiple emails. Services like YouCanBook.me will send out automatic reminders or confirmations for you.
14. Use The Tools!
Remember to use those email filters, tags, rules and tools I wrote about in a recent blog post: 12 Cool Gmail Hacks.
15. Give Yourself a Limit
Decide on the maximum number of emails you ever want to see in your inbox, and do your best to reach that magic number. (E.g. 10)
Once you’ve reached it, you’ll find it’s incredibly easy (even a game) to maintain that number. (Just try not to hang onto more emails than will fit comfortably into your screen.)
16. Use an Email Client App
If you do this, not only will you be able to deal with multiple accounts from one screen, you will also be able to deal with emails offline.
17. Prioritize Your Emails
You can even organize them before you respond. That way, if you are interrupted or run out of time, the essential emails will have been followed up on or sent. You can also star certain emails or mark them as important based on who sent them – that way they will be easy to locate within your inbox.
18. Give Short Answers
Not every email needs a formal business letter, seven paragraphs long. If you can answer with one or two words or sentences, and you know your respondent will also appreciate brevity, answer quickly with a simple phrase or word. (E.G. “Yes, thanks.”) Remember to still be polite!
19. Apply the 4-D Rule to Every Email
The 4-D rule is simple. Every email that comes into your inbox, look at it and run your own email filter—“Delete? Delegate? Defer it? Deal with it!”
If you say that while looking at an email, you’ll make quicker, more effective decisions on what action to take.
20. Adopt a “Once-Only” Approach
When you deal with an email, do your best to optimize your approach so that it doesn’t keep coming back to haunt you. This involves:
- Make sure you answer every question (clearly)
- Acknowledge what needs to be acknowledged
- Confirm what needs to be confirmed
- Use “closed” statements
21. Use a “Waiting for Response” Label
If you send out an important email that requires an answer (especially within a time limit), create a “Waiting for Response” label, and tag the email in question with it. Then set up your inbox to show that label at the top of your box. It will help to stop things falling between the cracks.
Don’t just get your email inbox under control—use these tips to turn it into a super-aide for your business: One that will help keep you clear and organized—and help you build your reputation.