Let it be known that I dislike email.
Deleting emails gives me the same grim pleasure that I feel when using a weedeater to rip through the juicy stalks of weeds. I'd rather be doing something else with my time, but if I must, then I'm going to make those weeds (and emails) pay for it.
Whether I like it or not, email is here to stay, along with self-employment tax and Pigeon Forge. I choose to make the best of it, and to that end, I've captured in this blog post a few of the tricks that I use to grind down my inbox as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Enjoy. Or don't. Just get better at email.
Delete as many emails as possible, as quickly as possible.
Your first priority when you open Pandora’s inbox is deleting as many garbage emails as possible: Groupon ads, a new post from that blogger you liked last year, information products, blasts from big brands like Apple.
Yes, you love sushi. No, you don't need to buy a 50% off coupon right now. Delete. Delete. Delete.
You'll be tempted to read some of the RSS-driven emailed blog posts and e-newsletters from smart people. But if you really want to be more productive, you'll either reserve 30 minutes in the mornings for reading, or you'll start wearing out that trashcan icon.
Productivity is all about creating, not consuming. Create the space to create.
Respond in two sentences or less.
Practice the discipline of short responses. Just because someone wrote you four long paragraphs and waxed philosophical about whether or not unicorns should be allowed to play in the NFL doesn't mean you have to respond with like verbosity.
Concise responses will save you HOURS each week. Seriously. If you restrict yourself to two sentences in response to 90% of your emails, you'll have more time to spend on crafting thoughtful responses to the emails that truly deserve one.
Truth: a lot of people don't read past the second sentence anyway. Why waste your time composing emails that people don't read?
Star important emails and answer them all at once.
Those emails that do require thoughtful response to multiple questions? Save those for last. Delete everything you can, and then fire off concise responses to the majority of those that are left.
Use a more time-effective form of communication.
If, while you're parsing emails, you come across one that needs a lengthy reply, then consider just calling the person.
That’s right…use your phone. Sometimes older modes of communication are more time-efficient. You could spend twenty minutes drafting and editing the email. Or you could spend two minutes talking on the phone.
If you still deem email the most effective mode of communication, then give that email a star, and return to it later.
Make ample use of folders.
What do you do with important emails that you have answered? You're waiting for a response. Now what?
File that sucker.
If you leave it in your inbox, it becomes digital cholesterol.
Not only will your inbox be more organized, but you will also be able to see your progress when those answered emails disappear.
Few things are more discouraging than spending all morning answering email only to look at an inbox that is still full!
You don't remember opting into to marketing promos for the software product that you bought last year, but you delete them every time that land in your inbox.
Forget that. Unsubscribe.
Put a match to all that litter on the forest floor. Certain evergreen trees can only germinate in the presence of intense heat.
I'm not sure what that has to do with email, but I think you get the point.
Group related replies and tasks.
If you have multiple emails from the same client, answer them all at once. Don't hop amongst different projects and clients.
Pick one client and answer all those emails at once.
And if you charge hourly for project management and admin, which I do, start the time. You'll see your profitability go up by as much as 15-20% if you start charging proactively for managing all those communications.
Focusing on making progress for one client or project at a time will boost your efficiency. You'll end up spending less time on individual emails because their common goals and tasks will still be fresh in your mind.
Write clear subject lines.
Do you need someone to review something before you can proceed?
Make that clear in the subject line: "NEEDED: Please review this mock-up so I can proceed."
The recipient also has dozens of emails to parse, so by communicating a sense of urgency, you will likely get answers faster, better manage your workflow, and meet deadlines.
Get to the point in the first paragraph.
Describe the purpose of the email and what you'd like to see happen in the first paragraph. Don't make the recipient hunt for the purpose of the email.
Format your emails.
Strategic use of bold, italics, and underlining will help you get the answers you need to keep projects moving forward and to keep clients happy.
If you're waiting on other people to make decisions, then say so:
"Please reply with 'Yes' or 'No' by 5pm today."
In closing, remember this.
Hopefully, that is the worst double entendre I'll use this year. My last trick is simple: close your email when you're not actively answering emails. Turn off your desktop and mobile notifications.
Consider answering your email twice a day at 11am and 4pm.
Close the browser window. Quit the Mail application. Turn your phone over so that you can see the screen.
You can use these email tricks to turn your inbox into a productivity and time management tool, but your goal should always be to spend less time answering emails, not more.