We all get email, some more than others. Even personal email accounts can lead to a feeling of never being able to get on top of things or not giving the emails that matter the time they deserve. What’s more, it is easy to spend time cleaning up your inbox and replying to everyone that requires it and before you know it, hours have passed, and the chances are that whatever time you spent could have been better used elsewhere.
Our 10 tips here have been designed to boost productivity, making email a component of a strategy rather than an excuse to procrastinate. Some tips will make sorting and filtering easier within the email program itself, while others are habit-forming and will enable anyone that uses them to focus on what truly matters.
1. Be Brave Enough to Delete Mail
As soon as you enter your email inbox, your first thought should involve the deletion of as much as possible. This saves time as you do not even need to open the emails in question. Check the sender and the subject, and click off anything that will not require further attention. Hopefully, your spam filter will have made life a little more comfortable in this regard, but something always finds its way through. Indeed, some emails are perfectly valid but require no further attention, and they should be first on the chopping block. Fortunately, even if it turns out you made a mistake, most email software gives you the option to retrieve anything you may have deleted in error.
2. Keep a Spare Address
At most, people tend to have one email address for work and one for personal communications. However, new email addresses are straightforward to come by, even if you use a service like Gmail or Hotmail. The time will come where you need an email address to complete a task, application or something else, and if you have a separate email address on hand for this, it will keep your primary boxes clutter-free. Do check it, but don’t make a habit of keeping it open all the time. Instead, open it up for a spring clean whenever you find yourself with some spare time on your hands.
3. Keep Your Emails Short
People tend to spend far more time composing emails than they need to. If you keep your emails short and to the point, you have not only saved time on the composition but stand a high chance of those you contact by email following the same style. That, in turn, makes it quicker to read what they have to say, act accordingly and then move on.
4. Create Distribution Lists
Depending on who you are and what you do, there may be some people you tend to contact in bulk. This might be a team at work, a group of friends or anything else of the sort. Rather than manually inputting recipients each time, use your email client of choice to create a group. This saves a bit of time on each email, which soon adds up while carrying the added benefit that you won’t forget to include anyone.
5. Have Templates on Hand
The usefulness of this tip varies, but if you often find yourself replying in the same manner to multiple emails, it is worth having a template available to speed up the process. Even for something as simple as yes or no answers, a template ensures you can avoid sounding curt in your response while still conveying the intended message.
6. Use Filter for Deletion
Depending on how active your email account is, it can soon fill up, and you’ll want to ensure that you have plenty of free space. Most email clients come with inbuilt filters that will show specific messages based on certain criteria. This could be messages from certain people or those with the largest attachments. If they are old and unlikely ever to see use again, delete them – you can always ask for them to be resent if the need arises.
7. Be Willing to Ignore Email
Anyone that may need to contact you urgently probably has more ways to do so than merely through email, and so your inbox can be safely set aside when working intensively on something else. If anyone asks, tell them to call you instead if something is particularly urgent and make it clear that emails will be dealt with when you get to them rather than as soon as the notification appears – if you haven’t turned them off too. Further to this, you may wish to consider automatic replies, which you can turn on when you know you won’t be checking your email for a while.
8. Set Up a Folder Structure
Even when you become highly skilled and ruthless in the art of deletion, there will be emails that you are unwilling to part with. However, we do not need them cluttering our everyday view. Take the few minutes required to put folders in place and use them as a backup to the trash bin. This ensures that the email is still there if and when you need it, but it won’t get in the way when you need to focus elsewhere.
9. Start Fresh
If everything that needs to be dealt with has been, and you have cleared out your inbox to the best of your abilities, you may still have a large number of emails left over. If and when this happens, and time spent organising the mail into folders will be wasted, create an ‘old email’ folder and dump everything. They’ll still show in searches, but won’t be front and centre day to day.
10. Empty the Bin
We mentioned using the trash folder as a backup, and you should keep most emails for a while. If they have not emptied each week or month automatically, do it yourself and set yourself free of old messages that serve no purpose.