“Mastering Email for Enhanced Productivity: 13 Expert Tips”
Email can be a major obstacle to productivity. Research indicates that we spend around 28% of our workday reading and responding to emails. On average, we check our inboxes every five minutes or about 74 times per day. Astonishingly, we respond to alerts within a mere six seconds, consuming valuable time and derailing our focus.
In our latest article, we explore the detrimental effects of compulsive email checking and provide you with 13 expert tips to transform from an email slave into an email and productivity superstar.
Part 1: Establishing an Efficient Email Routine
- Turn Off Notifications
Refrain from being one of the individuals who instantly reacts to email notifications. Even without these prompts, we still check our inboxes frequently. In fact, research reveals that we interrupt ourselves with email every five minutes. Recognize that each interruption incurs switching costs that significantly diminish productivity. Disabling notifications should be the minimum action taken to safeguard your focus.
- Prioritize Important Contacts
Not all emails hold equal significance. Distinguish VIPs in your contacts, such as your boss, spouse, children, or important clients, who necessitate prompt attention. Configure notifications specifically for these individuals using a quick search in your email client settings.
- Avoid Midnight Email Checks
Checking email during the night might seem harmless, but it can have adverse effects. The blue light emitted by screens suppresses melatonin, disrupting sleep quality and circadian rhythm. Additionally, encountering alarming messages may hinder falling back asleep, leading to unnecessary stress and fatigue. Break the addictive pattern of midnight email checking.
- Delay Morning Inbox Access
A recent survey found that 46% of Americans check their smartphones before leaving their beds in the morning. While this habit may initially seem inconsequential, stumbling upon an anxiety-inducing email can set a negative tone for the day. Negative emails can influence your mood and overall outlook, affecting your productivity. Instead, start your day with a morning routine and engage in deep work before diving into your inbox.
- Accomplish Meaningful Work First
Utilize your peak energy and concentration levels, typically during the first two hours of the day, for deep, creative tasks. Checking email beforehand puts you at risk of encountering stress-inducing messages that derail your focus and motivation. Safeguard this precious time by establishing a morning ritual and engaging in focused work before addressing your inbox.
- Limit Email Check-ins to 2 Times a Day
Many individuals habitually check their email throughout the day, sometimes up to 74 times. Constant interruptions heighten stress levels, impede focus, waste time, and hinder achieving a state of flow. To minimize stress and maximize productivity, reduce email checking to 2-3 designated time blocks daily. Allocate specific hours, such as 11 am and 4 pm, for comprehensive email processing, instead of intermittently checking throughout the day.
- Set Clear Expectations
If you’re concerned about complaints due to delayed responses, set up an automated email response or inform your contacts about your new email habits. Clearly communicate your schedule, ensuring adherence to it. For instance, you can create an automated reply explaining that you check emails twice a day and appreciate their understanding.
- Minimize Email’s Background Presence
According to research, having your email program open in the background, even if minimized, reduces performance. Your brain unconsciously devotes energy to monitor it, detracting from your ability to focus on other tasks. Take steps to make email less accessible and distracting by closing the email client, browser tabs, disabling notifications, or removing email apps from your mobile devices.
Part 2: Streamlining Inbox Processing
- Organize Emails with Folders
View your email inbox as a temporary holding place for incoming messages. Instead of allowing them to accumulate indefinitely, move emails to appropriate folders during inbox processing. You can create folders based on your preferences, such as “@ACTION” for emails requiring responses and “DONE” as an archive. Find a system that suits you best.
- Archive Instead of Deleting
In the digital age, deleting emails is unnecessary. Archiving offers superior benefits, making it easier to find important documents and remember commitments. Utilize search functions within your inbox to locate specific information when needed. Maintaining an email archive ensures you have access to relevant records at all times.
- Follow a Workflow
Establish a systematic approach for handling your inbox during dedicated time blocks. Consider adopting a methodical workflow like the one outlined here:
12.Process inbox using predetermined algorithms that determine actions for various email types.
Respond to emails in order of importance, starting with critical ones.
Adhering to this workflow keeps your inbox organized, minimizing stress levels.
13.Take Immediate Action
When encountering an email that requires action, avoid repeatedly opening it without taking appropriate steps. If you cannot respond or address it immediately, postpone
14. Assessing the Suitability of Email as a Communication Tool
This article highlights the limitations of email as a means of communication due to its lack of social cues and the negativity bias associated with it. It explains that positive intentions in emails are often perceived neutrally, while neutral messages can be interpreted negatively.
Given these drawbacks, it is advisable to avoid using email for sensitive discussions, heated debates, or criticizing someone’s behavior. Similarly, email is not suitable for brainstorming ideas, making decisions, or engaging in complex planning. Instead of engaging in lengthy back-and-forth exchanges, it is recommended to initiate offline conversations for such matters.
15. Managing Urgency through Clear Expectation-Setting Emails
Sometimes, responding promptly to urgent emails may not be feasible due to time constraints or a lack of necessary information. This can inconvenience both the sender, who is eagerly awaiting a response, and the recipient, who may feel guilty about the delay.
In such situations, it is beneficial to send a brief email that sets expectations and acknowledges receipt of the message. Here are two examples:
- “Hey Peter, I wanted to let you know that I have received your email. However, I need to discuss a few of your ideas with my boss to ensure alignment. I will provide you with a response around 4 pm.”
- “Hey Susan, thank you for reaching out. Unfortunately, I am currently occupied with an important work project throughout this week, which prevents me from dedicating adequate attention to your proposal. I assure you I will prioritize it starting next Monday and will contact you on Monday afternoon. Thank you for your understanding.”
Such emails help the recipients understand the situation at hand, alleviating any unnecessary concerns or speculations they may have had.
Part 3: Crafting Effective Emails, Establishing Inaccessibility, Declining Requests Without Guilt, and More Valuable Email Tips
Once the foundational aspects are covered, it’s time to enhance your email skills by incorporating the following effective strategies.
16. Amplify the Efficiency of Your Emails
By comparing two versions of emails, you can determine which format reduces the number of incoming messages and mental clutter.
For instance, imagine wanting to arrange a dinner with an old friend. Take these two examples:
- Version 1: “Hey Mike, it was great meeting you last weekend. I had a blast. Want to grab dinner sometime?”
- Version 2: “Hey Mike, it was great meeting you last weekend. I had a blast. Want to grab dinner sometime? How about next Tuesday, 7/8, or Thursday, 7/10? We could go to Mamma Mia’s Pizza.”
Similarly, if you intend to schedule a coffee meeting with someone you admire, consider the following variations:
- Version 1: “Hi Melanie, I’ve been a fan of your work for years, and I’d love to pick your brain. What do you say?”
- Version 2: “Hi Melanie, my name is Nils, and I’ve been a fan of your work for years. I’ll be in Chicago next week and was wondering if we could meet over coffee. How does next Tuesday, 7/8, or Wednesday, 7/9 work for you? I am available all day, especially in the afternoon, and can meet wherever is convenient for you.”
Clearly, the second versions minimize the back-and-forth exchange, reducing the load on your inbox and minimizing ongoing mental loops. While it requires some additional thought upfront, it is thinking that would have been necessary anyway.
17. Selectively Choose Your Email Responses
In his book “Deep Work,” productivity expert Cal Newport shares an intriguing concept. He noticed that many renowned academics at MIT had a unique approach to email: they rarely responded to messages by default.
Over time, Newport discovered their rationale behind this behavior. They believed that it was the responsibility of the email sender to present a compelling case and minimize the effort required for a response. If the email failed to meet these criteria, they would not reply.
Newport suggests refraining from replying to emails in the following circumstances:
- The message is ambiguous or challenging to provide a reasonable response to.
- It does not involve a question or proposal that genuinely interests you.
- Responding or not responding would have no significant positive or negative consequences.
While there are exceptions to this approach, not replying can significantly reduce the volume of emails received and the time spent in your inbox. Although some individuals may become upset, remember the advice of Tim Ferris: “Embrace the habit of allowing minor inconveniences. Otherwise, you’ll never find time for life-changing opportunities.”
18. Utilize Email Templates
If you frequently find yourself composing similar emails repeatedly, it is worth creating well-crafted templates for them.
For instance, if you receive frequent inquiries about maintaining a healthy lifestyle while working night shifts, rather than explaining your