We have become so dependent on emails that we rarely stop to think about how much time we waste on them. I does hold true that electronic messages are a huge benefit, but they are still a grandiose time consumer… possibly the biggest one in the busy world of today. How come?
Disclosure: This is a collaborative post and the author’s views here do not necessarily reflect those of the blog owner.
Simply, we are so hooked on email notifications that we rarely resist the temptation to immediately check out what this new message is about. Sometimes, it renders important information, but more often, it is some marketing offer. Not intending to undermine the importance of promotions, we still doubt it very much that these are urgent and worth the common delay. Research shows that the “common delay” per new message is 23 minutes and 15 seconds, on average. Multiple it by the number of notifications, and you’ll get scary statistics.
For that reason, it is crucial to learn how to handle your inbox, especially since it is highly unlikely you will suddenly decide to give up electronic messaging. You won’t, and neither will anyone else. Here are some simple tricks to never miss an urgent email and learn to handle the remainder while optimizing your time.
1. Farewell, notifications
Obviously, the first rule would be to give up email notifications. Even if you are a social network addict or a fervent subscriber, simply give them up. It’s even better to designate when to deal with incoming emails, which is best done by allocating actual time slots for checking new messages.
I.e., “visiting” your inbox in the morning might be a good idea. You can also allocate another time slot for the evening — right before you go to bed, or after your working hours. That in itself is not enough, though. You should also make certain to limit the time spent on checking and replying to emails. Finally, make a habit of clearing your inbox after each visit. In that way, only new messages will await you there.
2. Learn to compose efficient messages
There are useful emails and then there are others. Of the latter, there are many, and they also happen to be the greatest time consumer. Fortunately, there are simple tricks that can help you optimize your responses while not forgetting to say anything important. Some of them are:
- Limit your responses to three to five sentences.
- Each sentence should state important information only.
- Describe the topic in the subject line — briefly.
- Use a signature.
- Write a call to action for messages requiring confirmation.
3. Auto-responses to save the day
The auto-response functionality can truly do marvels… no matter the recipient or the contents of the message. They can also address urgent emails, by giving the precise information when a reply is to arrive. If you remember the point about time slots, you’ll have no difficulty in seeing how this plays out.
Still, don’t forget that clarity is rule number one. Similar to composing messages, crafting auto-responses should take the same principles into account. Make them short and concise, and state the most important piece of information in the opening line.
4. Email rules for additional zest
… And not only zest! They will also automatically sort out important messages from the rest. Most email clients offer a fair number of functionalities in this regard, commonly including automatic moving, flagging and responding to emails. Couple this option with filters and folders, and your inbox will become easily understandable at a glance.
5. A word on folders and filters
Email folders and filters are commonly used, but that isn’t to say they can’t be optimized further. I.e., instead of trying to make sense of a mess of senders, try sorting incoming emails by urgency. Thus, you may opt to create a folder for emails requiring a response, for emails not requiring a response and for emails requiring both a response and a follow up. In case of the latter, for some added clarity, make certain to repeat the topic in the opening line.
A thing to keep in mind: making too many folders will only mess up your inbox more. Keep it simple and to the point. Use labels for additional attributes.
6. Whitelists and blacklists
Commonly, people only use blacklists and, for some reason, tend to forget whitelists. The latter is no less helpful than the first, and no more complicated to set up, either. To top it off, a whitelist will do half of the job for you: it will tell you which emails require immediate action. As for the blacklist, don’t forget that unsubscribing from the services you are no longer interested in will make it less messy.
7. A note on subject lines
Subject lines are like a prologue to a book — with one exception, that is: they are considerably shorter. Still, they are there to grab the reader’s attention. Unlike prologues, however, subject lines should not end in a cliffhanger. Rather, they should be concise and to the point. Put simply, use a subject line to describe email contents, but don’t overdo it. Just simple information will tell the recipient whether your message is urgent or not.
If you stick with all these tips, your daily email checking routine is certain to step up considerably. On top of that, you will also learn the invaluable art of optimization and concise writing. To say nothing of efficiency, merely the good habits you’ll add to your list will boost your confidence.
This is a collaborative post by Emily Woodman.
Emily Woodman is a creative author and long time digital marketeer.