You probably spend one-third of your workday reading and responding to email, according to a Carleton University study. And if you work from home, email eats up half of your day. That’s a combined 17 hours spent wrangling email every week! This is not all that surprising when you consider that the average worker sends and receives upwards of 140 emails per day. Worse, 30% of the time the emails are neither urgent nor important. And when you consider it can take up to 25 minutes to refocus on what you were doing when the email came in, it’s a wonder anyone gets anything done. Yet email remains one of the most widely used forms of communication in business.
Sure, email can be a maddening waste of time, but there are ways to tame your inbox.
- Stop checking your email. Seriously. A study by researchers at the University of British Columbia found that limiting the frequency of checking email throughout the day reduced daily stress. Turn off email during certain times of the day and set up an auto-response saying something like, “I’ve turned off my email until 1 PM so I can focus on an important project. If the matter is urgent, please call me at 555-123-4567.”
- Set an email timer. When you do log in to your email, set a timer for one hour (or less) and then stay focused on your inbox. A timer helps keep you on task and drive productivity, but it does require discipline. When you are supposed to focus on email, stay focused on email until the allotted time is up.
- Triage like a boss. Many of us leave emails unattended because a cluttered inbox can be overwhelming. Start with the oldest email first then work your way to the most recent. If it’s not essential, delete it right away. If you can answer it in two minutes or less, answer it now. If not, schedule it as a task and delete the email from your inbox. If you anticipate that your emailed answer will spur follow-up questions (which will also come to you via email), pick up the phone. If it’s a subscription you never read, unsubscribe. These are time-tested tactics you’ve probably heard before because they work well for most people. You may have to customize these to fit your needs, but the principles still hold true.
- Stop cc’ing everyone. It’s simple. The more people you involve in the email, the more likely you’ll generate a lot more return email. If you routinely cc others, stop and consider why. Do they need to be involved in the entire email chain? And if they do, maybe a short video conference would be more efficient. Also, ask to be taken off group emails that don’t apply to you.
- Stop asking open-ended questions. Often, questions stimulate more questions which can lead to multiple emails. Get to the point. Ask a clear, direct question. Include a due date.
- Learn new email hacks. While the Inbox Zero approach (a rigorous approach to email management aimed at keeping the inbox empty) may not be realistic for you, those who tout the strategy have come up with dozens of hacks. You may need to try several techniques before you find the ones that work for you, so it’s a good thing there is no shortage of ideas floating around the internet.
- Stop sending emails. No, really. Often, other forms of communication are more efficient than email. Pick up the phone. Talk face-to-face. Send an instant message. Make a video call. Or, when necessary, set up a meeting.
Or…You Could Spring for Some Handy Email Alternatives
Tricks for taming your email inbox are useful, but the best trick of all might be to side-step email headaches altogether by leveraging more flexible, immediate collaboration tools like video, screen sharing, and instant messaging. Even better, roll all these tools together into a unified communications (UC) platform that helps reduce the costs and complexities of your communication infrastructure.
For more thought leadership on the benefits of UC and cloud technology, check out these articles: