Boost your productivity with these life-changing email hacks
How do you get out from an avalanche of emails? Let go of your “inbox zero” goal, to start.
What could you accomplish if you had up to 28% more time in your week? Would you be able to finish a promotion-worthy project or go the extra mile for a client?
According to a 2012 McKinsey Global Institute study, 28% of the average workweek is spent reading and answering emails. That’s time you could have spent being proactive and productive instead of replying to each and every digital missive you received.
Monster spoke with experts to help you find the happy medium between responding instantaneously and constantly saying, “Sorry for the delay!”
The first step? “Let go of ‘inbox zero,’” says Jocelyn K. Glei, a productivity expert and author of Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done. “Your unread message count is not an audit of your productivity.”
After all, you can’t walk into your annual review and boast, “I got to inbox zero!” or, “I respond to emails in record time!” as a reason you deserve a promotion. “If you want to make time to accomplish meaningful work,” Glei says, “you have to let go of the notion of an empty inbox.”
Answer emails in batches
“There are two types of emailers,” says Glei. “Reactors who rely on notifications and near-constant monitoring of their inboxes, and batchers who set aside specific chunks of time to power through email so they can ignore it the rest of the time.”
Batchers are more efficient and less stressed, she says. After all, if you’re constantly reacting to new emails, you’re probably getting sidetracked from the work you’re actually supposed to be doing.
To be more of a batcher, Glei recommends designating two to three blocks of 30–60 minutes per day solely for checking your emails.
Set notifications for urgent emails
Sure, you say, I’ll just ignore my email for 90 minutes, and then “that person” will email again in ALL CAPS with an “urgent” red flag alert.
That’s exactly the kind of stress you’re trying to avoid, right?
Glei suggests adjusting your smartphone settings to get push notifications from people who frequently send time-sensitive emails. “If you have a special someone who will freak out if you don’t tend to their email within five minutes of receiving it, compromise by using VIP notifications,” Glei says. “Then you’re freed up to ignore your email without worrying you’ll miss something crucial.”
Create canned responses
If you find yourself writing the same type of email over and over again, save time by creating template responses, suggests Kelly Mazur, founder of the Toronto-based digital marketing agency North Palm Digital.
Mazur uses Canned Responses for Gmail to automatically answer commonly asked questions. “These pre-written responses are used for all of my frequent inquiries, such as my rates or availability. With one click I can reply to an email, which makes clearing out my inbox much faster.”
Press pause on your inbox
Like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole, there’s nothing worse than getting distracted by new emails as you’re answering old emails in your already overflowing inbox.
Lucky Gmail users have another fix for that. Alex Moore, CEO of the Mountain View-based email productivity company Boomerang, recommends using Inbox Pause to “temporarily stop emails from flooding your inbox." This Gmail-friendly plug-in allows you to set a “time-out” on your emails until you’re ready to start receiving them again.
Fact: No one likes sending or receiving l-o-n-g emails that take 10 minutes or more to read.
“Keep responses short where you can, and follow up with face-to-face meetings or phone calls when the response is long and requires discussion,” recommends Dawn Roberts, founder of the Houston-based consultancy firm Dawn Roberts Consulting. “This will avoid long email conversations that can become impossible to follow and clutter everyone's inboxes.”
You don’t have to answer every email right away, but there may be situations where a client or higher-up wants acknowledgment that you saw their email.
Respond right away with a short message letting the person know when you’ll write a full response.
“People crave context,” says Glei. “If you help them understand where their email sits within your workload, they can be surprisingly understanding. What’s more, expectation-setting emails can help you relax by allowing you to re-assert control over your schedule and release any feeling of obligation about meeting someone else’s timetable,” she says.
Just make sure to star the email, use a label, put it in an email folder, use a service like Boomerang, or write it down on your to-do list so you don’t accidentally ghost your client or boss.