Starting your day with emails is never a good idea (unless you’re in a customer-facing role where emails are the main means of communication). Why is that? Well, can you remember the last time you opened up your inbox and it wasn’t full of messages? Emails put you in high-alert mode, draining your morning energy and making it hard to focus on one task instead.
Additionally, it puts your mind into tactical mode, and there’s a high chance you’ll stay in that mode throughout the day. On the other hand, if you start your morning with another activity, it could put you in a strategic mode and help you focus on what truly matters for you and your company.
And what about emails during the day? Our best recommendation would be that you don’t have your inbox opened for the whole day. Simply because you’ll keep shifting to that tab or app to see if there was anything new. This will break your focus and take you off the rails. There probably won’t be anything urgent in your inbox, and you could find yourself browsing through the newsletters for the next 30 minutes.
How Does This Affect Our Productivity?
Let’s take a look at some stats before we discuss emails vs productivity:
- We see emails six seconds upon arrival;
- An average worker receives more than 100 emails per day;
- It takes us about 23 minutes to get back to the task once we’re interrupted.
Now take a minute to imagine how your day would look like if you checked and responded to every email you receive straight away… You probably wouldn’t manage to do anything else!
When you think about it, we do waste a lot of our energy on emails, and it definitely shouldn’t happen when we’re most productive. If you keep checking emails throughout the day you’re either doing it out of habit, or simple procrastination.
Checking emails makes us look busy, but busy doesn’t equal productive. Stil, there are things you can do to minimize the time you spend checking your emails, thus maximizing your productivity.
First things first - disable email notifications, especially on your phone! Each time you see that you’ve received a new email, you’ll be tempted to open it up, but the whole point of learning how to manage your inbox is to spend less time in it.
Check Emails at a Certain Time
Block a few series of 30 minutes per day to check your emails, just don’t let them be the first or last 30 minutes of your workday. The idea is that you don’t spend your days checking emails more than 10 times, or each time you hear that “ping.” During these 30 minutes you should only focus on reading and responding to emails. If some of them require you to do something other than respond, add that to your to-do list, and keep reading through other messages you’ve received.
Pro tip: Be mindful when selecting the time of the day for this - don’t do it when your productivity peaks. Instead, do it after lunch, or when you usually start losing focus. If you aren’t sure when your productivity is at a highest level, use a time tracker for work to see how much time you’re actually spending on your email, and when you are least productive during the day.
If you’re afraid you might miss something extremely urgent or important in your inbox, you can create an automatic response to let your contacts know that you’re checking emails only during certain hours, and to provide them with alternative ways to contact you in case of an emergency.
When you do get to reading your emails you can use the 1-minute rule for responding to them. If an email takes less than a minute to respond to - do it right away, there's no need for it to sit in your inbox and wait for better days.
Reorganize Your Inbox
All email providers have different options for filters, folders, labels, and categories. Most of them are even highly customizable. You can even create different rules, so emails with specific keywords in the body or subject would end up in a specified folder. Another option is to group emails by groups of people, e.g. team, clients, company, etc.
Pro tip: If you can’t respond to an email because you’re waiting on someone else to take action, create a “waiting room” for these types of messages. It will serve as a reminder, and you won’t have to scroll through your emails trying to remember the name of the person you should respond to.
There are a lot of email organizer apps you could use to make this process even simpler. These can delay email delivery until the time when you actually check your inbox, help you keep track of different templates so you can respond to messages quickly, with some you can even mail merge or use a scheduler to send your emails at a specific time in the future. Which brings us to our next tip.
If you receive a lot of similar or same emails from your customers, contributors, outside associates, create templates which will help you respond to these quickly. This is especially important for people in customer-facing roles. Chances are you usually receive the same questions, or issues from the clients, make sure you can respond to them quickly by having templates on hand.
You can edit each response a bit in order to personalize it, or to give more information, but you shouldn’t waste time typing out directions on how to install your app each time a customer asks you.
Don’t Reply to Every Email
This seems to be a thing a lot of people don’t realize - not every email requires a response. Reply to those emails that ask questions or require additional information from you. Think about the benefits this response will get you - if they outweigh the cost (time wasted and lost productivity) then respond away.
Seems like such a simple action, yet, our promotional and social media folders are full of messages we rarely check. Take some time to review all messages you’ve received in the past week and unsubscribe for those you have no use from anymore.
These messages create clutter in your inbox, and can often derail you from checking the important emails and responding to them.
There you have it, seven simple things you can do today to keep your inbox clean and stop drowning in those messages. So, track time worked to see how much time you’re spending in your inbox, and to find out when is the best time to schedule your email checking. Disable email notifications on all devices so you won’t be distracted by them, organize your inbox using plugins, folders, categories, labels, rules, and everything else these apps are giving you. Create templates for most common emails, stop replying to every message you receive and don’t forget to unsubscribe.
This article was originally written on May 3rd, 2016 by Marija Grgur. It was updated on May 20th, by Bojana Djordjevic.