If you think you're the only person slammed with email, you're wrong. Whether it's working with colleagues, setting up meetings, or closing a deal, email is the main means of work-related communication for everyone.
According to a study by a study by McKinsey, the average "interaction worker" spends 28% of their workweek reading and responding to emails. For most professionals, that is a huge distraction that gets in the way of getting actual work done.
Many books, articles, and blog posts have been written on sending effective marketing emails. There's a ton of advice on optimizing the subject line, day of week, time of day, font, and pretty much every other imaginable detail.
But little attention has been paid to the importance of being better at receiving and processing email.
Here are some tips to help you process email more efficiently, free up hours of otherwise wasted time, and reduce your stress level.
1. Don't let email control you
The inherent instant gratification of clearing your inbox provides a brief feeling of accomplishment, but it's really not productive. Doing email is just one part of work. Determine how much time you want to spend in your inbox on a given day, and don't exceed it.
When you first open your inbox in the morning, star/flag emails that must be dealt with today, but make sure to focus on your top priorities first before diving into your inbox.
Dedicate 30-minute blocks every two hours to staying on top of email. If you need more time, make it 45-minute blocks, but it's critical to not let your Inbox control you.
2. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize
When you do make it to your Inbox, it's key to remember that not all emails are created equal. Most email clients give each email the same amount of real estate on the screen, making it hard for our brain to be discriminating, creating a tendency to give each email the same amount of attention upfront.
In reality, not all emails are created equal. Some need to be read and responded to right away (important and urgent priorities). Some can wait until later (important but not urgent priorities). Others should be archived or deleted in bulk.
Yes, some emails will never be responded to, and that's OK in the world of limited time and resources. Start with your top opportunities, and make sure you dedicate enough time to them. Even if you don't get to the smaller stuff, you'll feel great that you went after your top leads and gave them your best.
3. Be decisive
When checking your email, decide what to do with each email immediately:
- Respond if it's absolutely necessary or takes less than two minutes.
- Delete it.
- Archive it.
- Defer it and respond later.
- Develop a plan of action from the email.
That approach is called Inbox Zero, and it has become a popular email management method. It prevents looking at the same email twice, which is one of the greatest time wasters (and something we are all guilty of!).
4. Use email tools
Though everyone complains about email overload, few realize excellent tools are available to make things better. Some of my favorites:
- Rapportive shows you everything about your contact right inside your Inbox
- Awayfind sends you SMS notifications when you get an email from important senders, so you don't have to keep checking your Inbox.
- ToutApp offers templates and helps you track open rates on emails you send.
- SaneBox filters out and summarizes unimportant emails. It has lots of other tools, such as reminders when an email you sent was not replied to by a certain time (Note, I work at SaneBox).
Putting these four tips to work will not only make you more productive but also reduce your stress level as well!