How to manage your email like a pro

Manage email like a pro

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.

Be polite

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:

via Fast Company

via Fast Company

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.

Be practical

Craig Jarrow of Time Management Ninja has at least three great blog posts on email management (Count them: One, Two, Three.)

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

Be mindful

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.

Procrastination by Johnny Kelly

Illustrator Johnny Kelly takes us on an investigative and exploratory hands-on gloves-off study into the practice of putting things ‘off’. Sometimes the only way to get something done is to do two dozen other things first.

“The biggest difference between you and Picasso, or Einstein, or whoever your heroes are is that they out work(ed) you. They spend more time in front of a canvas, or guitar, or computer, working away at applying their minds and souls to specific things. Want to be more creative? Pick a problem you care about and get to work. If you don’t care about anything, your problem isn’t creativity, it’s apathy. If you start things and give up, your problem isn’t creativity, it’s dedication.”

Scott Berkun, in How to be creative – the short honest truth.

A procrastinator’s guide to getting started

How to stop procrastinating

Are you procrastinating, or letting your subconscious mind chew on a difficult problem? Getting started can be the hardest part of any creative pursuit. We take a look at the reasons behind our tendency to put things off, and how to make that first move.

True procrastination is the tendency to put things off essential tasks at the expense of your work. Hara Estroff Marano of Psychology Today says that procrastinators put obstacles in their own path and limit their performance. If you are truly procrastinating, you might be actively seeking distractions like clicking on links and watching too many videos, or even spending too much time on non-essential tasks to avoid starting ‘the big one’.

What motivates procrastination? Sometimes it’s a fear of failure, or a lack of self-worth. In his book The Now Habit, Neil Fiore outlines some psychological causes of procrastination. Procrastination, he says, is not typically a function of laziness, apathy or work ethic. It is a neurotic self-defense behaviour that develops to protect a person’s sense of self-worth. If you don’t get started, you can’t fail.

But procrastination isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes you’re still working on a problem, and giving your subconscious mind some space can work wonders. In fact, engineering professor Barbara Oakley recommends taking frequent walks and breaks to allow your brain to function at a high level and solve problems.

So how does this help you get started? Here are the Top 5 techniques we’ve found for breaking out of procrastination and into work.

1. Identify the problem

To get started on that piece of work you are avoiding, first it’s important to trust yourself to do the work. Examine your reasons for avoiding the task. Do you feel insecure in your abilities, frustrated with your client, or uncertain about the outcome? Acknowledge those reasons, then put them aside. Think about similar problems you have worked through. Trust yourself to do the work.

You never know what will happen when you get started. It’s all part of the mental preparation.

Here’s Jocelyn Glei’s advice from 99U:

First, you’ll want to identify if an inner argument is impeding your creative output. After you’ve done that, the work is to get that Inner Critic back on your side. Once you’ve conquered the internal voices, it’s easier to manage your (external) critics, and learn to distinguish between valuable critiques and silly cynicism.

Whether or not insecurity is the root of your problem, it always helps to focus on your goal and trust yourself to handle it.

2. Remove all distractions

Yes, all of them! Recent research has shown that distractions as short as 3 seconds can derail your focus.

Remove interruptions like unnecessary notifications, and tell anyone who might interrupt you that you’re setting aside an hour to get started. (If you can’t trust them not to get in the way, follow Marie Forleo’s rules – like her genius ‘NUNYA Clause’.)

Turn off your mobile, don’t engage in conversation, and if you’re easily caught up in items around you, try clearing your desk. If you’re working on a computer, go full screen. Internet-blocking tools like Freedom can be useful too, if and when you really need them.

Finally, try heading somewhere new to work. Get distractions out of your sight, or get yourself out! Wesley Verhoe of Fast Company says the fresh space improves creativity and helps to remove distraction. He even says that you should work from a coffee shop even when you have an office.

3. Break it down

Is your task so big that it seems insurmountable? In that case, break it down into smaller parts.

As outlined on LifeHacker, Dextronet recommend “tricking” yourself into getting things done by writing down the necessary steps first:

I tell myself that I will merely write down the steps needed to complete the task. Just a rough draft, at first, and that’s it. Maybe just 3 steps. I then add more steps, breaking the 3 steps into smaller sub-tasks. I then add some details, and thoughts, notes of things that I shouldn’t forget when doing this task. I just think the task through and write everything down.

Another great way to do this is to start with a big task, then divide it into its constituent parts, or comfortable stages. As you write your list, giving yourself some good verbs to get started. For example, rather than “plan pitch”, try writing, “gather pitch ideas, select initial list, begin workshop draft”. It makes all the difference!

4. Get disciplined

A good way to ensure that you started is to make a rule for yourself. Cordon off a couple of hours and try to get through a few of your smaller sub-tasks. This will both help you to get started with a small step, and give you a structure to focus within.

Unclutterer’s Erin Doland recommends using timers to improve productivity. Lots of timer-based strategies like the Pomodoro technique promote a burst of productivity followed by a short, scheduled break.

Timers help you (and me) stay focused and complete tasks — specifically the not-so-fun ones and the ones that have to get done — in reasonable amounts of time.

Set yourself a timer for 20 minutes – you’ll be surprised what happens next.

5. Treat yourself

Let’s face it, we’re driven by simple goals and simple pleasures… when we want to be. Dangle a carrot and set yourself a deadline.

Sidin Vadukut at qz.com swears upon his father’s counter-intuitive rule: “If you want to get five tasks done, my father always said, first find five additional but enjoyable tasks to do.”

If you’re having trouble getting your list started, why not start with the five fun tasks you’d like to do, then follow them up with the challenge that you have to achieve first?

What are your productivity tips and tricks for getting started? Tell us below or tweet us @ShareflowHQ.

ROYGBIV: A Pixar Supercut

Rishi Kaneria created this one-minute supercut examining and celebrating Pixar’s use of colour. Fittingly, it’s named after the Leprechaun who lives at the end of the rainbow.

How to speak so that people want to listen

“How can we speak powerfully to make change in the world?”
—Julian Treasure

The key to collaboration is great communication. In his TED talk, sound expert Julian Treasure’s outlines how to talk to ensure that people will listen. He demonstrates 7 habits to kick, followed by some useful vocal exercises and shares tips on how to speak with empathy.