Email productivity remains a major issue for most of us and as we speak you may have hundreds of emails sat in your inbox. Do you find yourself pondering over which emails to respond to first or spending 5 minutes trying to find one someone sent you last week? Unless you’re lucky enough to have a very good PA and don’t need to access your emails yourself; take the time to become more efficient with your desk time.
Top email productivity tips
Tip 1. Action or reference
Apart from email that is spam or completely unnecessary, which you can simply delete or even “mark as spam” if you have the time and audacity, emails can be sorted into one of just two groups; action and reference. The key here is to have a well structured set of folders in which you can file all of the documents that you need to keep but do not need in your inbox, i.e. keep for ‘reference’.
Having trimmed the fat, all that should remain in your inbox are items that require ‘action’. Your inbox now contains only correspondence or tasks that you need to act upon – it will now work as an efficient reminder tool.
Once you have responded, or taken the appropriate action; file these emails for reference. Be efficient and minimise your inbox!
So, the important bit – what to do with ‘action’ emails:
Tip 2. Urgency vs importance
This is somewhat of a general time-management tip but it can be applied to all of your email which requires action; either by way of response, delegation or something more complex. How do you determine which task to do first?
Maybe a certain email response will require action that will take you a couple of hours. This means getting tasks correctly prioritised is absolutely paramount to your level of efficiency. All work related actions, including emails, have an associated degree of ‘urgency’ and ‘importance’. These are not the same thing! For example, stopping a pencil rolling off your desk onto the floor is urgent (action is required within the next few seconds) but is not important (it’s only a pencil). Your tax return isn’t due for another 6 months – it’s highly important but not urgent. Stopping an office bin fire spreading across the room – both urgent and important.
If you don’t have anything particularly urgent to do you can create you very own ‘urgency importance matrix’ and mark your pending jobs on it. The most important and urgent jobs fall somewhere in the top right hand corner. As a rule of thumb; always begin with urgent/important and then urgent/unimportant as these are time-critical! This concept should help you organise your list of tasks far more efficiently.
Tip 3. Failing tip 2
Having taken on board tip 2, there may still be occasions when actions are difficult to prioritise; perhaps you have a highly important task which is not as urgent as stopping your pencil roll onto the floor – do you sacrifice the pencil to make a start on the really important job? If in doubt ask yourself, “What is going to make me the most money?”
That’ll sort the wheat from the chaff.
These tips are going to save you a lot of grief in the long run and will involve you playing around with your settings – well worth the bother.
Tip 4. Update your inbox every 30 minutes
Too many of us are slaves to our inbox. Too many of us pander to the alerts we receive on our phone or computer whenever something or someone has contacted us, regardless of the degree of importance. Humans are far more productive without any distractions; when our mind is focused on the task in hand and we’re in “the zone”. Receiving email breaks our concentration. Prevent your work habits being dictated by the email patterns of others by setting your inbox to update itself periodically. This guarantees you half an hour’s peace at a time, or longer if you choose.
Ask yourself “how many emails do I receive that require action within half an hour of receiving it?”
Remember, if something is really urgent, they’ll pick up the phone and call you!
Tip 5. Set up an “out of office” response when you’re out of the office!
Hopefully, most of you already do this religiously. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to get hold of someone for a week only to find out they’ve been sunning themselves in the Bahamas. If you’re going to the Bahamas, let people know. Billions of pounds worth of business will be passed up every year because of a break down in communication and a lack of “out of office” is probably to blame for most of it. Regardless of your role in a company, and the industry it’s in, if you’re going to be absent for more than one day, set yourself an out of office response!
Let people know:
a) The exact dates of which you are “out of the office”. These need not be the exact dates that you are out of the office, just the dates upon which you’re not going to respond to anyone.
b) Who to contact in your absence. This is important seeing as you’re probably not the only person that can deal with the enquiry and there’s a good chance you’ll be delegating the matter anyway. If they need to speak to you and the issue is not time-critical, they’ll await your return.
c) How you can be contacted in an emergency – if they need to speak to you, specifically, and the matter can absolutely not wait. You need not provide anyone with your personal mobile phone number but there must be a way of getting hold of you if something urgently requires your attention. This could be the phone number of the hotel you may be staying in or provide them with the contact details of someone (not on holiday) who you can trust to call your personal number if necessary.
You must avoid the conversation, “…but I need to speak to them! It’s an emergency!”
“I’m sorry, I can’t give you their phone number”
“But they have to sign the contract worth £50million this week or we’ll go elsewhere”
“I’m sorry but it’s company policy. They’ll be back in the office next week.”
This would be irritating if this happened to you.
Tip 6: Don’t just delete; unsubscribe!
Honestly, the amount of time we spend trawling through our already overflowing inboxes deleting rubbish that we get sent from all sorts of people and businesses is appalling. These come in the form of third party spam that we’ve managed to sign up to having not ‘ticked the boxes’ somewhere or another or simply sites or communities we’re signed up to that send us weekly newsletters or updates which we just don’t care about. Do you value your time so little that you subject yourself to hours of deleting every month because you can’t be bothered to ‘unsubscribe’.
Trust me. The next time you get such an email find out who it was from and how you can unsubscribe – it will only take 30 seconds. On certain platforms such as LinkedIn, just change the settings so you avoid the regular updates that you just don’t need to know about.
Finally, save yourself as much hassle as possible by scrutinizing those forms you complete and tick the right boxes!
Tip 7: Stop sending pointless emails!
Is this you or has this ever happened to you? Maybe this happens to you frequently. Maybe you don’t realise these conversations are happening.
Email 1: “Hi J, please find attached the report you have requested…”
Email 2: “All received S, thank you”
Email 3: “Great, let me know what you think”
Email 4: “Will do, thanks again”
Email 5: “Cheers J, speak soon. Best, S”
Which of these emails are actually necessary?
Technically, only the first one. If person 2 does not receive the email, person one will be notified of this break down in communication technology. If it’s someone you have dealt with before, it won’t have gone into their spam.
Personally, and like many of you reading this, you will regard ‘email 2’ as ‘necessary’. This is a quick and efficient way of letting someone know that you have received it and when you have received it.
Emails 3, 4 and 5 are a ridiculous waste of everybody’s time and under no circumstances should have ever been sent. Be sure that person 2 is going to let person 1 know exactly what they think of that report. Number 4 and 5 are just us British being too polite for our own good. Just stop it! There’s no need and no one is going to be offended if they don’t receive them, in fact, you’re just getting them over excited every time they see a new message in their inbox.
Pro tip: use phrases like “no response needed” to ensure the end of correspondence and allow them to file the email accordingly.
Right. That brings us to the end of teaching you how to enjoy a much leaner and more efficient email system. Each of the 7 tips will save you hours of tedious and unnecessary admin work over the year and will make you far more productive in the case of tips 1 to 4!