Emails have become both our greatest friend and our biggest curse. The service has evolved from a simple and convenient communication tool to keep in touch with friends, family and colleagues. It is now a giant multi-purpose tool that kills our free time without us even realizing it before it’s too late, and it has become increasingly important to learn how to use it for our benefit only.
Research undertaken by Adobe Systems Inc. shows that most people spend ca. 6.3 hours a day checking and responding to email, which translates into ca. 31.5 hours a week. In short, we lose more than one whole day checking emails every week. That’s a lot of time that certainly can be spent in a better way.
In actual fact, email can well be used to boost productivity and the task is not overly complicated either. It only takes some self-discipline and a good productivity calendar to help us keep things in perspective. Let’s go step by step.
Limit Your Email Exposure
Obviously, the first thing to do would be to stop checking out incoming messages all day long. Not only does the practice help you waste time efficiently, but it also interrupts other tasks. The easiest way to achieve this goal is by setting up dedicated time slots for checking incoming email.
Albeit there is no general rule, people practicing this strategy say they check incoming emails once in the morning and once in the evening. If you can manage it, you should also make zero inbox your goal. Make certain that there are no unread messages at the end of the day. In that way, you will only have to deal with the messages that arrived during the night in the morning.
Business people who receive high volumes of new messages every day can rather set a time slot in the peak hours. After all, some emails are more urgent than others, and waiting a couple of hours for a response is not the best business practice.
In short, avoid answering all emails as they come. In this way, you are doing it all day, interrupting pretty much all tasks. Not good.
Turn Off Email Notifications, Sort Messages by Importance
There’s not much use of designated time slots for checking incoming messages if notifications keep pestering you, is there?
We have heard the argument that urgent emails cannot wait so many times that it already sounds empty. That’s what the time slot in the peak hours is all about – getting to respond to important emails.
Speaking of which, not all emails must be responded to immediately. When checking incoming messages, respond to urgent ones first, then move on to less important ones. Use your intuition with this strategy. If you have more important tasks at hand, leave the emails that aren’t time-sensitive for the next time slot. As long as you manage the zero inbox goal, you should be fine.
Write Short, Concise Responses
Beating around the bush is the fastest way to wasting more time. The key is in writing efficient responses in a concise way.
There are also some shortcuts to this strategy. I.e., many people use multiple signatures to avoid wasting time on typing them again and again. This is one way to additionally boost your productivity. Another one is to answer the email directly, without going into details if not necessary.
Namely, some emails only require a confirmation, while others are simple yes/no questions. Just type the answer, short and clear, and move on to the next important message.
Merely these two tips will decrease the amount of time you spend on answering new emails significantly.
Responding to emails is one thing, but composing them is another matter entirely. Obviously, it takes more time to compose a message than to respond to one, so this process should also be optimized. If you are sending generic messages for the most part, a template can help.
For all other occasions, use clear and short subject lines (“hello there” is not a subject line; it’s a greeting), concise email body, images where applicable (they can decrease the volume of the text considerably) and double-check the recipient’s address before sending.
Whenever applicable, use highlights and calls to action– anything that breaks the text and makes the point immediately obvious will do the trick.
Getting the Best Out of the Calendar
Let’s see how using a calendar properly can help you boost your productivity even more.
First of all, simply using a calendar is not good enough. You need to adjust it so that it suits your needs, especially if you have multiple email accounts.
It is recommended to use one calendar for all email accounts because merely the practice of going through different calendars every day will contribute to more time being wasted. There are numerous ways to personalize your calendar so that it can help with the task at a glance.
E.g., you can use labels to help you sort out the messages (i.e., meetings, conferences, life events, etc.). Use different colors for each label so that they are easily recognizable. It goes without saying that you will memorize them very soon, so think of your color palette carefully. Changing it later will only complicate things.
If you receive large volumes of emails, you can add descriptions to events. In a similar way, you can add comments with regard to the desired action. For example, emails that are not urgent can be marked for the next checking. Because there will be new messages when you open your inbox again, you will know which ones aren’t urgent immediately.
Can Anyone Be Productive in This Hectic Age?
The simple answer is – yes. Everyone has to deal with a multitude of tasks and incoming emails every day. Even if full inboxes seem like a nightmare, we’re still using the service, aren’t we?
There’s a good reason for that. To this day, email remains the most convenient way to keep informed, get instant replies and filter out the content we are not interested in or the content that can be left for later “use.”
Simply put, that means we can prioritize while using email to our benefit – and that is exactly why we still rely on it. By getting used to your calendar, you will manage to simplify this process even further and be left with sufficient time for other activities at the same time. Easy-peasy.