Email is often described as a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it’s a great way to communicate with just about anyone, anywhere, at any time of day. Unfortunately, that communication works both ways, letting anyone and everyone make demands on your time and energy whenever they need to.
It’s estimated that the average employee spends two hours every day handling email. That’s more than a whole day every week! With so many messages coming in, it can be hard to prioritize other work on your plate and still get everything done.
Are you spending too much time on your email? Here are some great tips to improve your email productivity and peace of mind.
Don’t Let Email Set the Tone for Your Day
Do you check your email the minute you arrive at the office? Chances are it’s the first program you open on your computer after you arrive at work. Unfortunately, it’s the worst thing you can do if you want to have a productive day. With very few exceptions, checking email first thing in the morning can set a bad tone for your day. Why? Most people are the most productive and focused when they arrive at their desks in the morning, before lunch and the afternoon slump sets in.
Using your most focused and productive time handling email can leave you feeling frustrated and defeated, especially when you don’t have the time you need to get all your work done by the end of the day.
So what can you do instead?
Spend the first hour or two of your day focusing on the most important task you have on your to-do list. Make an appointment with yourself and honor that appointment as you would a meeting with a client or colleague.
After you’ve spent some quality, focused time on your most important task and need a break, get a cup of coffee and open your email. You’ll find that most emails, even the “emergencies,” can wait an hour or two and that time investment will pay big dividends at the end of a busy day.
Don’t Let Email Interrupt Your Flow
Interruptions are one of the biggest enemies of productivity, whether they come in the form of an unexpected phone call, someone stopping by your office, or an email notification popping up on your screen.
While we don’t have control of many of the interruptions that come our way, we can stop our email program from interrupting us when we really need to focus. Simply turn off automatic email notifications and skip the pop-up box every time a new email arrives. It’s just too tempting not to read that little snippet of text and get sucked into the email vortex.
In addition to turning off email notifications, you may also opt to close your email program altogether when you’re working on something important. This way you won’t be tempted to take a “quick peek” at your email when you get momentarily stuck.
Process Email at Regular Intervals
Another way to increase your productivity and keep email from taking over your work day is to schedule regular times throughout the day to process your email. This way, you can handle your email in batches and stop checking your email every few minutes to make sure nothing urgent has come in.
Try checking your email once in the morning (after you work for an hour or two as described above), then after lunch, and then again after you get out of a meeting or before you leave for the day. It’s also a good idea to let colleagues know your new schedule, so they don’t wander over to your office or call you if you haven’t answered an email in a few minutes as you normally would.
Checking your email in batches also carries another important benefit. You can work on email when you’re stuck on an important project or schedule email for times when your energy is waning and you need some lower level work to get you going again. Give it a try and see how you fare.
Do you get more than five spam email messages every day? Dealing with spam along with your more urgent emails is not just irritating, it’s a time-waster, too.
You can minimize the spam in your inbox by installing anti-spam software on your computer. This will work in addition to any server-side software your IT department may have already set up.
We’ve found that SonicWall Anti-Spam is quite effective at minimizing spam messages. It works by learning about messages that you designate as spam. Over time, the program is able to discern patterns and effectively minimize the amount of spam you receive each day. Less spam means less time sorting and trashing unnecessary emails, a big boon for productivity.
Unsubscribe, Unsubscribe, Unsubscribe
Do you get newsletters, sale announcements, coupons, or other regular emails that you never have time to read? Unsubscribe and save yourself the time and hassle of deleting and sorting these emails that may hold little interest. It takes just a few seconds to click the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of an email and this small time investment will save you countless hours over the course of a year.
If you don’t want to take the time to unsubscribe, or your unsubscribe efforts haven’t worked, you can also set up rules or filters to divert emails to an archive folder or right to the trash the moment they come in. Microsoft Outlook’s rules feature offers powerful ways to filter and sort your email, saving you time and hassle.
Empty Your Inbox Everyday
You’ve probably heard it before, but it bears repeating… An empty inbox makes your life easier and more productive.
Why look at the same emails over and over again, when you can deal with them once and move on? The trouble is, most emails aren’t just emails. Some are tasks you need to do. Some have important information you want to save. Others contain a question that you need to research a bit more before you can answer. Still others announce upcoming events that you need to add to your calendar.
Most people leave emails in their inbox to remind them of things they need to do, schedule, or remember. The trouble is that it isn’t long before there are hundreds or even thousands of emails in your inbox. Sorting through them all becomes a chore in and of itself. Here are some tips to get your inbox to empty:
- If an email contains a task that you need to do, add it to your task list and file the email.
- If it contains information you need to remember, consider filing the email instead of keeping it in your inbox. You can always find the email again by doing a search. Either archive it in a general archive folder or create a filing system of topics that make sense to you and file accordingly.
- If the email contains a reminder to buy something or sign up for an event or class, mark your calendar for when you want to be reminded about it, then file the email.
- If you need to research information or don’t have time to reply to an email right away, add a task to your to do list and file the email.
Regularly removing emails from your inbox will save you countless hours over the course of a year. But more importantly, an empty inbox means you won’t accidentally miss something important, creating less stress and more peace of mind.
So there you have it! Six ways you can take control of your email and add more productive time to your day. Have a productive email tip that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!