Use these 12 tips to take control of your inbox.
Use these 12 tips to take control of your inbox.

Email is an effective means of communication and companies depend on it for many aspects of their business. Consequently, employees spend much of their workday fielding email as part of their normal routine. A recent McKinsey study estimated that 28% percent of worker time is spent reading and answering email. Subsequently, due to modern worker and office efficiency standards, minimizing the time dealing with email is important to your career and company. Here are some ways to improve email productivity:

  1. Make sure your subject lines are relevant

Multiple conversations with the same colleague about different subjects or multiple conversations about the same subject with different colleagues must be tracked. Subject lines of these email threads should be clear and relevant to the topics within the email. Once a few threads from the same person are in your inbox, it is hard to tell them apart.  That’s why putting a good subject line in an email is a great way to boost your productivity.

Subject lines should capture the essence of the message in a few words – remember that most inboxes only show around 60 characters. Try to keep your subject lines to less than ten words. This can be facilitated by eliminating unnecessary words and phrases like “hello” or “when you get a chance.” Make sure you always use different titles, even if it is about something on which you have previously corresponded. For instance, if you recently sent a draft of a presentation to your manager for approval, and you are writing a new email with a fresh draft, be sure to specify that this is the second draft. Also, be sure to never leave a subject line blank, these emails are often overlooked.

  1. Use good email etiquette

Email etiquette is important to productivity, but it is also vital to your professional image and your company’s reputation. Good email etiquette increases the chances of the respondent also using proper etiquette, making email easier for you to read and improving your productivity. Try to use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation in all of your messages, no matter how short.

If grammar and spelling aren’t your strong suit, try getting some help from an email proofreading extension. These programs won’t catch everything, so make sure you proofread all your messages at least once. Be sure to not get too emotional in your responses, especially if this is a response to something that has frustrated you. Angry back-and-forth threads are time-consuming and will only make you less productive.

  1. Generate standard responses

Generic email utilization is an excellent means to achieving email productivity. These can be employed for entire responses or for segments of an email. A great way to get started on doing this is to track typical responses you have in a given week. If you find yourself frequently replying to prompts for meeting attendance, be sure to have a standard yes or no with great email etiquette. If you constantly have to explain something about a product or policy, make a generic paragraph that explains it. Auto-responses are helpful too, especially when you cannot respond. Just ensure they are well written and have a personal voice that doesn’t read like a computer program.

An excellent tactic for combining signatures (read on for more help with signatures) with generic email is to have tailored signatures for various standard messages. That way you can save a ton of time because you don’t have to type anything from scratch or copy & paste things multiple times. If you need help creating and using these templates, try using an email template application.

  1. Use email signatures

Setting up a great email signature is a task often put on hold but doing it right can improve your productivity and advertise the brand image of your company and yourself. Email is universal for correspondence outside of companies, so your signature can serve as a marketing device to the many people who read it. Quality, not quantity, is important when generating a superb signature. Conversely, only providing your name and email address doesn’t help the recipient contact you or your company. Sometimes, when someone wants to contact you, their only alternative to email is the contact information you put in your signature.

A great email signature has your given name and family name, phone number, email address, a link to your company’s website and a brand logo on the right that also links to your company’s website. This gives the recipient enough information to contact you and exposes them to your brand image and potentially your company’s website. If you want a unique and professional design for your signature, try using an email signature designer.

  1. Unsubscribe from unnecessary lists

Email from lists you previously subscribed to, which you now don’t want, is referred to as “bacn,” pronounced “bacon,” a pork product like spam. Unlike your spam, you signed up for your bacn at some point. It is estimated that on average you receive 12 bacn emails per day. These emails come from different sources like your bank, pharmacy, or the online store where you recently bought something. Minimizing bacn is a great way to improve your email efficiency. Whenever you sign up for something using your email address, there is usually a box to check if you want to be on the company’s email list to “receive great offers” or “subscribe to the mailing list.” Unchecking these boxes is the first line of defense in protecting your inbox from bacn.

Companies are required to make it easy for you to unsubscribe to lists via a link at the bottom of the email, just follow the instructions to free yourself from that particular list. Another way to keep your inbox free of bacn is to use unsubscribe software. These programs give you an easy-to-use interface where you can choose which lists you want to stay subscribed to. Be careful when unsubscribing, if you unsubscribe from spam instead of bacn you might be inviting more email from this sender because you just validated their efforts by showing you open their messages.

  1. Don’t sort email

Creating an elaborate organizing scheme for your email is both satisfying and time-consuming. Each time an email comes in, you put it in its respective folder and tell your inbox from now on to put email from that sender in this folder. While this seems like you are organizing, it will end up just costing you more time in the long run. You will have to sort this archived email and organizing email takes up a lot of time.

When you need to find the email again, you must search through your many folders and subfolders.  Maybe you know which folder it is in but you are looking for a particular attachment and you can’t remember which email contains the attachment. You then have to search through all of the emails to find the correct attachment. Try using a search tool for your email, instead of sorting and searching, the program finds any email for you. It can find which email contains a particular attachment or a note about a meeting. These tools also solve many of the other issues outlined in this article.

  1. Only open email when you’re ready

Email comes in sporadically during the day and with every email notification you get it is very tempting to pick up your device and check it. It is equally tempting when sitting at your desktop, just think of how many times you pull up your email during the workday. When you need to focus on work, email can be a big distraction. If you get a new email it is hard to not answer it and once you start working on email it takes some time to get back to work. What you need to accept is that email is addictive and distracting and while it may technically be work there are other important tasks to tackle. There are some great ways to solve the issue of email as a distraction.

The quickest way to resist temptation is to turn off notifications on every device, this includes desktop notifications. If you want to make sure you don’t miss an urgent email, use an email alert system that filters your email and decreases the number of notifications you receive. Another great way to improve your email productivity is to set boundaries for your answering schedule. This can be a rigid system like not answering email from 8-9 a.m. and 3-4 p.m. or it can be flexible like saying to yourself “I won’t check my email for the next 30 minutes” or “I’ll check my email after completing this report.” If you are still tempted during these designated no-email times, try using a blocker program. These programs shut down many different sites and apps, just in case other distractions take the place of email during this time. If you decide to come back to an email later because you needed to do other things, make sure you set up a reminder system so you don’t have to try and remember it during your focus time.

  1. Organize your replies

A great thing about email is you can have a conversation for months, even years. You can look back and read the conversation if particular elements have escaped you since you last participated. This excellent feature is only able to be utilized efficiently if the two parties keep the replies relevant to the topic. In a thread of 30 or more emails about a project or deal, it can be time-consuming to look through the entire thread to find a piece of information embedded within it. If someone has a question about something contained within an email from months ago, you need to search through the thread, which can be messy.

A great way to help your recipient answer your question accurately and in a timely manner is to bring the most relevant email to the top when asking a question or referring back to old information. Hopefully, the recipient will voluntarily reciprocate. If you are a supervisor, you can institute this rule for your employees to increase team productivity.

  1. Make a phone call sometimes

Email is great for long conversations, but oftentimes phone calls are more efficient. When you find yourself getting into a back-and-forth with someone, it is more efficient to just talk over the phone. In urgent situations, calls are better. Sometimes the phone call still results in an email for documentation of the conversation or for necessary attachments but the phone call created an efficiency in the dialogue.

A phone call can also be great for creating a personal relationship. Email is only 73% accurate at conveying our emotions and we are more effective at expressing them over the phone. That’s why people are more successful with clients or suppliers when they talk to them over the phone. A great way to introduce the call is to ask the most important or pressing question on the phone. This shows your seriousness and adds a personal touch to the connection.

  1. Use project management programs

Projects are collaboration-intensive, even those deemed “independent.” They must be brainstormed, assigned, tracked, revised, and completed. Outside of meetings, email is how most collaboration is done. Email has to be relayed, progress updates are emailed to multiple people, and questions about who to refer to about an issue are common. Oftentimes, members are left out of the email group and colleagues with specialized knowledge are unable to participate in the discussion.

For your next project, try using a project management application. These programs give you a quick view of all the projects on which you need to work or collaborate. You can post comments and tell the system you are completed. Best of all, this program decreases the volume of email during projects. If you need to schedule appointments with someone involved with the project, try using a scheduling application to avoid a back-and-forth over what time is best for everyone.

  1. Separate work email from personal email

Clicking on work email at home and checking personal email at work are very common practices in the modern world. The devices that deliver email are much more effective than they used to be and this makes it even more tempting to check email wherever you go, whenever you want. Since business email can now be checked anywhere, anytime, sending one off on Sunday night no longer means that it will be checked Monday morning. For this reason, email should now be treated more like a phone call.

Send the email off during business hours as a common courtesy to the recipient. If you get a business email at home try your best to ignore it. This is just good practice for maintaining a healthy work-life balance. And the professional thing to do at work is turn off your personal email notifications.

  1. Clear your head before sending important email

If you get an adrenaline rush while writing an email, you need to take some time to relax before you continue. This is an extreme case but emotion can get in the way of accurate and thorough responses. Important email takes time to craft and your professional image improves as you practice patient email writing.

When confronted with an important email, take some time to really think it through. If necessary, take a walk or do another task first, you could even sleep on it if it’s not too pressing. Not only will your professional image improve but you will be more efficient because you will not be forced to correct as many mistakes.

 

We all know that email can be a huge waste of time so I hope that these tips will help you out. Have any other tips you think I missed? Let me know in the comments below!