Empty Your Inbox – 5 Email Productivity Tips

Email productivity tips
Photo by Torsten Dettlaff on Pexels

Too much email, not enough time. If you’re a manager or a leader, or your job position includes getting your inbox cluttered with various emails day after day, email productivity should rank high on your priority list. I know how easily all of us can get overwhelmed with emails. Constant tasks, infinite newsletters, and spam. The worst part of it – when you get drowned in your messages, you don’t know where to begin to get rid of them. What is important, what can wait for tomorrow, and what needs to be done immediately? It’s a complete madhouse, and you’re right in the middle of it, nervous and stressed out. Depending on how many emails we get per day, we can spend days reading and replying to all of them. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and luckily, you’re in the right place. Today, I will share with you email productivity tips to help you manage your inbox, save time and significantly reduce your email anxiety. 

1. Don’t keep the email tab open for too long

This is perhaps the most important thing to mention. When it comes to email productivity it’s the number one mistake the majority of us make on a daily basis. We are constantly checking our inbox and have its tab open on our browser throughout the whole day we spend at work, next to a dozen other tabs relevant to our job obligations during the day. Although we think this is the way to “stay in the loop”, notification alerts, incoming email beeps, and unimportant newsletters can distract us from other tasks we’re processing and leave us out of focus. We need to establish reading-and-replying-on-emails blocks of time during our workday. The amount of time spent on it should depend on the number of emails we’re getting. Some of us do it by dedicating 5 to 10 minutes of every work hour checking and replying to emails, while others prefer to check their inbox 2 to 3 times a day.

2. Implement the Time Management Matrix tool into your email managing

Many business owners, leaders, managers, and the rest of people who get literally dozens or hundreds of emails per day use Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix tool to organize the time they spend on checking and replying to emails. Although this tool wasn’t meant specifically for managing your email, it is a perfect helper when it comes to email productivity and achieving your “inbox zero”. This tool has four quadrants, and it helps you prioritize your daily tasks by estimating their importance and urgency. The key of this tool is to help you determine which tasks we need to address immediately and which ones we can schedule.

Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix

  • Important and urgent tasks are the ones which are critical to the business goals. You should address them as soon as possible
  • Important, not urgent tasks are constant improvement tasks
  • Urgent, not important tasks are various disturbances and interruption tasks
  • Not important, not urgent tasks are tasks that are not crucial or dominant in any way. You can schedule them any time

You can use these quadrants easily to control your inbox, for example:

  • Important and urgent emails are the ones that you need to tackle as soon as possible since they are crucial for the project you are working on 
  • Important, not urgent emails you can sort out as emails that you get from your co-workers and/or business partners, that provide information significant for the project you are working on 
  • Urgent, not important emails can refer to different tasks that you need to deal with. Those don’t have to be related to the project you are working on.
  • Not important, not urgent emails are newsletters concerning various activities that you might be interested in, but are not essential nor urgent in any way.

3. Start using email features such as labels, folders and categories

This might be one of the best email productivity tips since it saves your precious time, and keeps you well organized. If you’re using Gmail and haven’t tried out their labels system, this needs your full attention. I would be completely lost without it, and I recommend it to everybody. Say goodbye to spending so much time locating a specific email in your inbox you received days or months ago. Gmail labels are tags that function as folders and you can add them to any email you receive or send. Labels will help you sort out, prioritize and file emails to make your inbox look tidy and arranged. The only difference between folders and labels is that you can add more than one label to a single email! Not only that – it keeps you organized even more by allowing you to generate sub-labels for a specific parent label! These little lifesavers are called “nested labels”. Oh, and yeah – you can add different colors to your labels so you can locate them basically effortlessly. Amazing stuff!

4. Do not delay replying or archiving

If you have some spare time to answer your emails and file them, don’t wait for tomorrow to do so. If you wish to achieve email productivity you have to take action right away. You can do it by deleting or archiving emails that are not important nor urgent for you (such as various spam emails, newsletters, etc.). This will help you assess emails that need your notice. Also, reply to the critical emails as soon as you can, don’t let them pile up in your inbox and sit there for days. If you’re on a vacation, create an autoresponder email message stating details you wish to share. This is not only professional and informative for your business partners and colleagues, but it will keep you safe from people sending you multiple emails regarding the same subject.

Another thing worth mentioning – you don’t have to reply to every email. Half of the emails people send are impulse-based, and replying to those doesn’t really matter. Also, replying to an email with “Thank you” or “Ok” doesn’t improve the conversation in any way. Get rid of the feeling that you need to answer every single message.

5. Block or unsubscribe from mass emails

If you’re a victim of sites that send you lots of newsletters and promotional emails daily, therefore burying important emails relevant to your work and life, the easiest way to get rid of them is to block or unsubscribe from these senders. This number one efficiency hack is a must! If you’ve never unsubscribed or blocked a sender and don’t know how to do it, here’s a little helper – The Verge’s blog whichdescribes the process in detail, for all webmail providers.

Email is sort of like an evidence book –  everything we’re doing leaves a trace in it. We get confirmation emails that we paid our bills, or we receive information if we’re invited for a job interview. It changed the way we as individuals function. Not only that, it changed the way businesses function. It is a great tool for communication with consumers, and companies are using it daily to reach out and meet potential customers in the future. But when it comes to productivity, email can be our best friend or our worst enemy. More than 269 billion emails are sent every day. For that large number, we need to learn how to control our email instead of letting it control us and our time.

Tatjana Lukic, Project Assistant at Bridgewater Labs

Previously published on Medium on October 2, 2020.

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