How I Stopped Using Email To Double My Productivity

There’s life after email. And it’s much better than the one you have now.

Listen to this story. I used to live for my email.

My most important task of the day was to leave my inbox at zero.

Furthermore, I considered myself an authentic mail ninja. I answered minutes after receiving one.

I organized each and every one of the emails in folders. Hundreds of folders.

I’m a monster, a beast. A pro.

The good thing about having a smartphone is that you can always be paying attention.

A soft buzz = new mail. It’s fantastic.

Since a large part of my activities required handling payments, you receive notifications by email for each transaction.

Tens, hundreds of daily notifications.

At times I would be waiting for an important reply for hours, expecting the email. Alert.

As I was thinking it had come, that they had replied, I would discover that it was an email from a newsletter to which I had subscribed.

I had lost my way.

My creativity, a big part of my assets as a professional, had vanished.

My capacity for concentration had disappeared.

I didn’t know how to get out of the spiral, because the more emails I reply to, the more I receive.

I lived for my email.

Does it sound familiar?

This fictional tale exaggerates some of the habits we all have. Who hasn’t done something like this at some time?

In my case, there were two events that forced my escape from email:

  • Finding 130 emails which needed to be answered in my inbox. None of them spam.
  • The second, listening to Luis Suárez at his talk on Hack For Good 2014.

Some interesting facts

Surfing through the web, I have found that Luis is not the only one who has decided to be done with email as a means of communication.

Let’s start with organizing emails. According to a study by IBM, people who organize their emails are much less productive than those who find them using search tools.

If you are an employee of a large company, not paying attention to your email for a while reduces stress and increases concentration, according to this other study by the University of California.

Another interesting fact, we spend 73 days per year reading and answering emails. 73 days!

Another one, working without using email avoids multi-tasking and increases productivity, according to this other study.

And if that isn’t enough, 40% of the emails you receive are worth absolutely nothing.

Do we have alternatives?

Of course! In the following video you will see an example of how you can live without email.

One of the alternatives is to use social networks to connect with others. Already there are many professionals who acquire clients and communicate with them through these networks.

How can I stop using email?

I want to make clear that I am not an extremist. I continue receiving and answering emails frequently.

But I have gone from spending 3-4 hours per day on email to less than 30 minutes in just one month.

I’ll tell you how I did it:

Step 1: Goodbye newsletters, goodbye!

You heard me right. I unsubscribed from 90% of the newsletters I was subscribed to.

Before you say I’m crazy, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is that newsletter really indispensable?
  • If the point is not to miss a post, can I use RSS instead of email notification?

The difference between using tools like Feedly and subscribing to a newsletter is that with your RSS you have the control.

Think about this: 1 email = 1 moment of distraction.

Step 2: Automation, come to me!

Not only can you automate your email signature (if you’re not doing it, please do it), there are some tricks, especially if you use Gmail, that will allow you to be much more productive.

Use Text Expander or aText to save you from writing the same answers over and over, especially if you work in customer service or support.

Put Gmail to work for you. Program some filters this way:

When you receive a notification email (Facebook or Twitter announcements, advertising, etc…), select the option, Filter Messages Like This.

Message menu in GMail

Now click on the lower right on Create a Filter with this Search Criteria.

Select the option, Filter Message Like This in GMail

Select the actions you wish, from Mark as Read, to Label, to Delete. Finish by clicking Create Filter and, you’re done!

Create a filter in GMail

This way, Gmail works for you. If you have the patience to do it enough times, there will come a time when the only unread emails will be those that are truly important.

Step 3: Notifications off

It is an important leap of faith to eliminate notifications, sound as well as vibration, for any email coming into your smartphone.

That radical.

That simple.

That effective.

Step 4: I control my email, not the other way around

There’s only one way to control it. Checking your email fewer times a day. Precisely two.

The first time at mid-morning. If you start your day answering emails you have wasted the most productive time of the day. Hold off two or three hours without looking at it, you will notice the difference. If it is urgent they will contact you another way. Where is it written that emails should be answered in 1 hour, 10 minutes, 30 seconds, or a week?

Step 5: I don’t beat around the bush

Something so easy and at the same time so complicated, right?

It is based on a very simple principle, if instead of writing a paragraph I can answer in one line, I write only that line.

Direct and to the point.

Another thing, do you write as fast as you speak? Not I…

If I can solve it with a 10 second call, I don’t answer the email, I call.

Step 6: I educate my contacts

This is essential. If not, you will continue receiving emails from the same people.

It is very easy to do. If they send you an email, answer them using different ways.

Call them, send them a Whatsapp, write them a private message on Facebook or Twitter…

As soon as they discover that they can find you faster outside your inbox, you won’t get any more emails.

Step 7: I educate myself

Perhaps the key to the whole issue. If we don’t change our habits, it won’t work. We’re talking about not looking at email during the weekend, not looking at it every hour, every minute…

Changing a habit is very difficult.

If it motivates you, I have gained in quality of life. I now answer what I consider important, I control the times much better, I am much more productive, I don’t waste half the morning every day just to leave my inbox at zero, and I am much more visible on social networks.


Now to finish and as a summary:

  • Email is a time and productivity vampire.
  • To change my environment, first I have to change.
  • It is possible to reduce the volume of emails. Eliminating it completely is a challenge you may not be willing to achieve.
  • Opting for being more social will enrich communication and it will cease being 1:1.

Caution! None of this will be of use if you repeat with networks all the mistakes you have made with email!

And you? How much time do you dedicate to email and what tricks do you have to be more productive with your email?

P.S. If you liked this post, you might also like 10 Ways to Decrease Your Time Spent on E-mails and Get Your Life Back.