The time you spend sending and receiving emails may be hurting your productivity.
Researchers from the University of California, Irvine, Microsoft, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted a study on the patterns of email use on stress and productivity. It found that stress levels increase and productivity decreases the longer you send and receive emails daily.
Now, consider McKinsey’s report that professionals spend 13 weeks each year going through emails. It shows that the struggle to keep up with the inbox is getting worse and affecting workers.
Understandably, you must check emails to keep up with clients and work, and they remain the standard means of business communication. On top of that, they’re more straightforward and effective than other channels in specific situations.
However, you must cut back on how many times you check them each day to improve productivity and reduce stress.
But how do you reduce time spent on emails without hurting business communication?
We have compiled strategies to help you effectively manage your time at work and still reply to your emails.
1. Turn Off Email Notifications
The ding of your email notification is enough to distract you for about 4 to 5 seconds. The sound or pop-up triggers a sense of urgency, compelling you to drop what you’re doing.
In some cases, the interruption can cause long delays and even errors. According to a University of California Irvine study, workers take up to 23 minutes to fully resume work after an interruption. Another study found that 3-second distractions can lead to significant errors.
So, to ensure you’re not distracted, keep your email notifications mute. That said, ensure you keep reminders about special cases during these periods. This way, you're not distracted but won't miss critical emails.
2. Create an Email Schedule
Depending on the nature of your job, it may be critical for you to check your inbox. For example, you may be expecting a reply from a big client, and your supervisor might send jobs through emails.
Keeping your notifications on becomes important as you don’t want to miss anything. In addition, you’ll be prompted to check every pop-up since you’re already expecting something urgent.
This situation could cause significant interruptions and reduce your work quality. However, you can create an email schedule to stay on top of things. Creating a schedule involves setting time blocks to check your emails.
If you work remotely, your company is likely embracing asynchronous communication. So, your colleagues won’t expect instant replies, especially when they know you’re working.
According to a study of 1,200 consumers, 43% of customers expect businesses to reply to their emails after 24 hours. So, you won’t be losing clients if you don’t respond to emails immediately.
Now, schedule email-checking sessions for periods when you don’t have critical tasks. They could be three 25-minute spells each day.
3. Use a Timer
The email time suck can make it challenging to stick to the 25 or 15-minute duration you assign to emails. You may have too much to deal with and will be tempted to clear them.
However, you have to stick to your schedule to ensure you’re not wasting valuable work time on emails. So, use a timer to notify you that your email-response session is over.
For example, if you allow 15 minutes to check emails, make sure you leave your email client once the time is up. A time clock app can be used here. Some of these tools can integrate with your calendar and send out notifications when a period is over.
4. Sort Emails According to Sender
Grouping your email based on the sender also helps to reduce the amount of time spent in your inbox. Separate the senders’ list according to their priority level, service level agreements, and other contract deliverables.
Prioritizing emails will help you attend to the most critical messages when necessary and increase your efficiency in handling tasks. You can also mark some email senders as important and set custom notifications to allow you to attend to them promptly.
To differentiate email contacts, you can use the starred feature. This method is fast and saves you the stress of reordering emails in folders.
5. Avoid Irrelevant emails
It’s equally important to avoid irrelevant emails.
You often sign up for newsletters, free information, or even LinkedIn updates to get the latest industry insights and learn about new opportunities. These sites spam you with daily emails containing ads, product reviews, and marketing offers.
In reality, some of these emails are so engaging to the point they can distract you from work. So, it would be wise to avoid them. Or better still, create a special schedule - preferably after work - to read them.
You can use automatic filters and delete or unsubscribe from such emails to reduce the time spent on them.
6. Use Different Email Addresses
It’s standard professional ethic to use different emails for work and personal affairs. This way, you won’t be distracted by domestic issues when in the middle of work.
You should also use different emails for some work-related activities. For example, if you handle staff complaints, you can create a dedicated email address where employees can send complaints.
Things like newsletter subscriptions could ideally have a separate email address. This way, your primary work email is not cluttered with non-work-related emails.
7. Power Through Your Responses with Speed
Reading and understanding emails are just one-half of attending to your inbox. Composing an email can also be challenging and time-consuming, especially when responding to a senior manager or a client.
To reduce the time spent responding to emails, you can create different email response templates. These templates will be tailored to address the different kinds of emails you receive. This way, you’re fast-tracking your response time and staying coordinated and organized.
You can also set up automatic email responses to manage the recipient’s expectations. This option is ideal in situations where you have to answer specific questions. It will buy you enough time to round up pressing tasks and attend to the email adequately.
The canned response feature in clients like Gmail is another excellent time-saving feature. It allows you to quickly reply to repetitive emails without typing new responses.
8. Move Your Mails Out Of Your Inbox
Email clients now come with powerful search features to help you find anything. The engines go as far as searching the texts in attached documents. However, the feature doesn’t mean you have to leave your inbox cluttered with unread messages.
As a professional, you probably get up to 50 emails per day. And when you don’t respond immediately or regularly, you build up a backlog of emails that crowd your inbox and make it look unorganized.
Even if you open your email with no intention of reading every backlog, you’ll be tempted to glance over one or two. Then it spirals into a long session of checking others.
Responding to email backlogs can span from minutes to hours. However, you can avoid that by clearing out your inbox. There are different ways to do that:
Archive emails: you can create special folders and archive unimportant emails. Archiving does not permanently remove the emails from your inbox. However, it stores them for whenever you need to revisit them. Many email clients now come with an archiving feature built-in. To re-access your emails, you can easily click on the search button, input a keyword for that mail and peruse the results to get what you want.
Delete your emails: If you don’t have to revisit an email, delete it. Getting rid of it saves you space and time as you won’t have to look at it again and wonder if you should reopen it. However, some companies frown on deleting emails and prefer employees download them to their local devices.
Whether you’re deleting or archiving, it would be a good idea to act on each email after viewing or responding to it. This way, you’re keeping your inbox neat and free.
9. Always take action
Avoid delaying an email for later or procrastinating a response. You don’t want to pile up email work. So, whenever you open an email, ensure you take action.
You can mark an email as important if you have to deal with it later because you need more information. In other situations, make sure you reply, delete, or archive each email you open.
Emails are necessary for every business operation, personal endeavor, or even regular communication. However, spending less time in your inbox is one of the best time-management hacks to master. You can create enough for other important activities.
So, ensure you keep your emails organized, create email schedules and stick to them, and keep your inbox decluttered.