Receiving hundreds of emails day-in, day-out? Unless you are in the first line of customer support, that poses a serious problem to your productivity. And well-being. Your inbox is basically a public todo list anyone in the world can write to.
If you are struggling to implement complex strategies like GTD or Inbox Zero, these seven simple tips can help you to shave a solid slice from your overflowing inbox – and the time wasted dealing with it.
Managing the flow in your inbox shouldn’t stand in the way of your more important work. If you don’t want to wind up spending half of your working day sifting through messages that may not involve any call to action or things that concern you directly, we’d like to offer you some tips that can help you stay in the stress-free zone.
The first step towards healthy email habits is actually not using emails for matters that could be better dealt with elsewhere. Things like assigning tasks, scheduling meetings or communicating with your team should be done outside of your inbox, saving time to everybody involved.
1.Take tasks and project communication out of email
There are so many free applications that allow you to assign tasks, manage projects and track the performance of your employees outside of your email inbox. So use them! You’ll get much more organized and you’ll save an amazing amount of time.
In our company, we use Trello for instance, an easy-to-use team task manager. It is ready for agile, a modern project management approach used successfully in software development that is becoming wi(l)dely popular in marketing and other areas of business.
In a more visual and practical way than email, you can organize and communicate about tasks using attachments, checklists, labels, comments etc. The workflow process and tracking progress is much more intuitive and drag-n-drop easy to use.
For project and team communication, divert the email traffic to the popular team communication tool Slack or an open source alternative like Rocket Chat. Here is a good list of more free Slack alternatives. Instead of searching through a pile of arbitrary emails, you’ll have all communication and files from your project team in one place.
2. Scheduling belongs to calendar, not your inbox
By using applications like Calendy or YouCanBook.me, you can share the available times in your calendar with your team or associates to diminish the flow of back-and-forth emails about setting up a face-to-face meeting.
Using Calendly, you can also invite your clients, partners and other correspondents outside of your company to schedule a meeting directly.
A pro tip: include the scheduling link in your email signature, you’ll eliminate the need for endless emailing about the date. Here’s how: Smart Appointment Scheduling can reduce email overload.
3. Kill the email notifications (or better all)
There’s a new epidemy today – app notifications. It seems every app and service today has something soooo important to distract you with all the time. And not only that, they do it via multiple channels to make sure you really get distracted several times – pop-ups, on-screen notifications, those little red numbers on the icons, text messages, and, of course, emails.
The best practice is to be rigorously strict with allowing any notifications. And if you do allow some, make sure you don’t get the same twice or thrice. Having Facebook to show you a notification on the app icon? Make sure it doesn’t send you an email about the same.
4. Respond quickly to save people’s time – you know you’d appreciate the same.
OK, now let’s go back to that kind of emails you still receive. Most of the time you just have to type “yes/no”, even “I don’t know / I don’t want to decide this” is very helpful. Therefore, it is crucial that people won’t have to wait for your decision. Responding shortly and quickly can benefit both you and your partner.
Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO, writes in his book How Google Works: “Most of the best — and busiest — people we know act quickly on their emails, not just to us or to a selected few senders, but to everyone.”
On the other hand, if your answers are short, make sure your email signature contains all your personal details. You may also consider linking in your signature to emailcharter.org, a manifesto of email brevity and a set of 10 rules trying to reverse the email spiral.
Another tip for more efficient teamwork: develop a practice in your team to set a response deadline in your e-mails (most preferably directly in the subject). With emails that take more time to respond to, you will easily prioritize them.
By taking these measures, all your correspondence remains time-coherent and you’ll know exactly how far backwards and forwards in your inbox you need to be checking.
5. One simple rule: send less, get less.
Well, there’s one more problem that always takes place in the inbox: the CC. That’s where you get plenty of emails you are not really interested in. As always, it is the best to start with oneself. Consider twice putting someone in the CC yourself and ask others frequently writing to you to only copy you when you really need to be in the loop. And only hit ‘reply all’ when you’re sure that everyone copied really needs to be informed.
Similarly, only reply to emails that concern you directly. So the easiest way to lessen your flow of emails is to send less and to make sure the ones you write actually move forward the topic being discussed. Don’t just comment for the sake of commenting.
Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn CEO, decided to conduct an experiment: “I wouldn’t write an email unless absolutely necessary. End result: Materially fewer emails and a far more navigable inbox. I’ve tried to stick to the same rule ever since.”
6. All these interesting news! Not.
Ah, the newsletters. You might be following a couple of newsletters that sometimes interest you, but mostly don’t. It might even be the case that you are registered to online forums. Be it something you are interested in personally or professionally, the influx of updates can be really disrupting.
So the first rule is to unsubscribe from anything you don’t read regularly. Have a look in your inbox now – are there newsletters where you have read less than 75% of the emails in the last couple of weeks? Unsubscribe them.
Secondly, filter the newsletters out of your inbox and set a regular time for reading them. Google is also already trying to do it for all promotion emails and put them under a separate tag. Do it on purpose yourself – label all the newsletters and forums you get, choose the option “skip the inbox” and store them separately in Gmail. Only read them once a week when you have enough time (like during your Friday tea break).
Tim Cook, Chief Executive at Apple, receives up to 800 emails daily and reads most of them himself.
7. Use your signature as a communication tool and a marketing channel
If you nevertheless have to send an email, put as much value in as you can. Successful people have a habit of sharing of the important things they are up to. Your email exchange includes almost all your social ties and contacts. By including small “campaigns” to your email signature you can keep them up to date with what’s happening in your company – be it a new product, a sale, an upcoming event. Add a link to a landing page that contains all details and that’s it. Your clients will get the information needed but also the contact person related to what you promoted and voilà, you avoided more email.
While emailing is currently still the most widely used professional form of corporate communication, it is also the most misused and time-consuming. If you are not ready—or fail consistently— to implement Inbox Zero, try adopting some of the above. You might be surprised how much time you can reclaim by those few simple hacks.
Did we forget something important? What is your favorite email productivity tip? Let us know – join the discussion here!