Imagine what you can do with 13 hours a week.
On average, this is how much time we spend on email each week. Once engaged in the endless deluge of messages, it’s difficult for our brains to exercise the discipline and restraint to refrain from continually peering into our hopelessly inundated inboxes. As Dmitri Leonov, the vice president at SaneBox despairs, “We no longer live in the blissful ‘You’ve Got Mail’ era, and our relationship with email has developed into something draining.”
Rather than allowing ourselves to be continually sucked into this universal time killer, why not find ways to combat it?
1. SCHEDULE “PURGING” TIMES
We check our emails an average of 15 times per day. As Samantha Murphy Kelley recounted about a study conducted by the University of British Columbia, “Switching between tasks requires realignment of attention and emotions, which can be taxing on the mind.” Rather than the constant loss of focus that comes with responding to every new message ping, consider creating specific times each day in which you “purge” your inbox. According to the study, checking in with your inbox three times a day is the best. During those check-ins, go through your messages, and mass delete some and respond to others. This way, you can save the time logging in, switching between activities, and acting on only a few emails.
2. LET GO OF THE DREAM OF AN EMPTY INBOX
We often feel the urge to delete or read every email. We all yearn for that perfect zero in the unread messages category. But can we really ever get there? As Leonov further insists, “You’ll never win, because as soon as you clear your inbox to zero and get to sleep, you’ll wake up in the morning with a hundred more.” Instead of pressuring yourself to clear your inbox every single time you receive a message, consider allowing yourself—mentally and practically—to accept the idea of a tainted inbox. Besides, who’s counting, anyways?
3. DIFFERENTIATE BY PRIORITY
As Kate Bratskeir wrote on Huffington Post: “Not all emails are created equal.” The brain often tries to associate every message we receive with equal importance—at least initially—which leads to a prolific waste of time. Many email programs have methods in which to categorize and organize emails in order to allow for efficiency. In Gmail for example, there are options such as “Mark Important,” starring, and labels, so you can create an email hierarchy that allows for faster access later on and automatic delegation before you even view messages. For instance, if you are looking to track responses for a certain event or critical meeting, consider using the Gmail starring system, in which you can mark related emails with colored stars. By doing this, you can quickly find these messages again.
4. DON’T FEEL PRESSURED BY IMMEDIACY
While there are always those rare, few messages that mandate an immediate response, a vast majority are hardly time sensitive. Often, it is the natural process of the brain to desire a response to an email immediately once it registers an unread email. Keep in mind that some emails don’t require responses at all, let alone on the same day. A very effective idea is to leave important messages that don’t require an immediate response unread, thus enabling you to locate it later on when it actually matters.
5. SAVE MORE BY DOING LESS
Of course, if you send less, you will receive less. In a study published in the HarvardBusiness Review, it was concluded that when a team lowered email output by 54%,10,400 annual man-hours were gained. In all aspects of an email, conserve, conserve, conserve. Try not to CC, BCC, imply that a response is needed etc. unless mandatory. The more people you send to, the more consuming (and often useless) emails you will receive back. Consider the “golden rule” of emailing: short one-line answers work best, not only for you, but also for those who don’t have time to read a long soliloquy. Envision your email as you would a Twitter post: no more than 140 characters does the job. Elaborate on your email subject line so that less clarification is needed in the message body.
6. PERSONALIZE TO FAMILIARIZE
With the hundreds of customization options that email programs allow, take advantage early in order to save time later. “Rather than constructing each one from scratch, save templates that remind you of important details to include and contain prebuilt design best practices,” Amy Buckner Chowdhry, CEO of AnswerLab, explains. Extend this same concept of templates to signatures and automated responses; the more detailed information you include the first time around will save you extra words in your emails down the road.
NOTE: This article originally appeared in Fast Company.