Pick up any book or read any blog post about productivity and you’ll find that little devil on everyone’s shoulder: Email.
The best laid plans for time management often go awry when you are dealing with a constant influx of emails. So how do you make the most of your time without ignoring important communications?
Here are the best tips we could find for managing your time and your email more more effectively.
Best practices for handling outgoing emails
We’ve split this guide into two parts – we’ll deal with outgoing emails first. What’s the best way to manage outgoing emails? In short, lead by example. Here are some great tips we found around the interweb:
Write productive subject lines
Be specific and use keywords that refer to the area of the project that you are writing about. When the subject goes off topic, be sure to change the email subject line as you go.
Get to the point
Save time with these tips for writing shorter emails:
- Start with the most important point and work your way down.
- Use bullet points if necessary.
- When addressing a particular team member, put their name at the beginning of the line so as they know whether to act.
- As a rule of thumb, imagine reading your own email on a smartphone. Is it easy to scan? Then you’re doing it right.
Need an extra push to get this done? According to David H on Hacker Space, skimming 3 seconds off the time it takes to handle each email can save you 5 minutes a day and, cumulatively, 21 hours per year.
Deal with the back-of-your-mind emails
Time coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders says that email is for setting expectations.
Unread (or read-but-not-replied-to) email takes a toll on your happiness and productivity at work. It’s hard to stay focused on your important long-term goals as the emails pile up, and you know in the back of your mind that you’ll have to get to them “one of these days.”
Saunders also provides an array of canned responses to use as drafts or text expanders. These can be pulled out in any situation, from giving yourself more time to write a thorough response to taking a conversation offline.
As well as being useful for managing expectations, these brief and to the point email outlines demonstrate how easy it is to save time and still send courteous replies.
Fast Company goes a little further with clever auto-responders that you can use to save even more time.
We’d like to think this goes without saying, but sometimes a brief email can seem curt, so always ensure that you ad a few niceties to your canned responses before hitting send.
Here is Fast Company’s excellent guide to Do and Don’t phrases:
Don’t forget to throw in a few social niceties from time-to-time. As your mother always told you, being polite costs nothing – and that counts for an extra 3 seconds to type a “How are you?”, too. (Despite his advice above, we’re sure David H would agree this is 3 seconds worth spending.)
How to manage your incoming emails effectively
Now to the tricky part. Unfortunately, the incoming aspect of emails is more difficult to handle than the outgoing.
Fortunately for us, productivity enthusiasts love to create processes and workflow tips for handling incoming email.
His practical inbox tips include the following:
- Empty your inbox daily
- Archive or file away emails you’re finished with
- Move tasks out of your inbox and into your to-do list
- Only check email a few times per day – and no peeking when you’re busy with other tasks
- File reference emails and important documents
- Delete when necessary – including simple emails and junk
Practical suggestions are always helpful, but it is also important to think about the impact of your use of email.
In another article on 99U, Elizabeth Grace Saunders outlines some of the ways that effective people use email differently from some of the rest of us.
Here are some of her key points. Consider these and ask yourself, is this email effective?
- Always add value. Is there a good reason to reply? If not, don’t.
- Prioritise replies. Avoiding miscellaneous emails when there are more important messages to deal with makes email more effective.
- Aim for 24-hour turn-around. This goes hand-in-hand with Craig Jarrow’s tip to empty your inbox daily.
Are you obsessive about email? What are your tips for saving time and using email efficiently? Say hello in comments or tweet us @ShareflowHQ.