Maddy Osman
I write about productivity, the future of work, and collaboration at the Planio Blog.
June 21, 2017 · 6 min read

Definitely, Finally Solve your Email Problem in 8 Easy Steps

Email Management Tips: Incorporating Productivity Best Practices

Most people spend 28% of their workweek responding to/dealing with email. If you’re the type that’s constantly stopping what you’re doing to check the latest email to hit your inbox, this probably won’t come as much of a surprise.

Of course, quantifying this wasted time can still be a shock when you stop to consider how much productive time email is draining from your day. Answering emails can give people a false sense of accomplishment, as they’re really more efficiently dealt with at set times (and not as they come in). Imagine what you could do with 28% more time in your work day (or even a fraction of that)!

Most people spend 28% of their workweek dealing with email.

You might need to rethink your attitude towards email if you regularly exhibit any of the following behaviors:

While it’s important to recognize that you have little control over email coming in (because it is by nature, an ongoing communication), it’s also important to realize that do have control over time and how you use it. You can’t stop emails from finding their way into your inbox, but you can control your level of productivity when reading and responding to them.

These email management tips will help you to get more out of your workday, while minimizing time in your inbox.

Schedule a Set Time To Read & Reply To Emails

Schedule set times for email

The easiest way to take control of your life (and time!) is to create set times to read and reply to emails. And though it’s tempting to set this time for shortly after you wake up or get to work, it’s actually counterproductive to start the day by checking email.

So instead of scheduling your email checking time block in the first few hours of the work day, instead aim to get a full 2-3 hours of working in before you first check your inbox. If you need some guidance on setting times to check your email, the best times are in the morning after getting some high value work done (between 10-11am), and a few hours before you're done for the day (around 3-4pm).

If you’re known for being a quick email responder, as a courtesy, inform colleagues beforehand that you’ll now be reading and replying to emails at set times during the day. If you really want to drive the point home (especially for people you aren’t in frequent contact with), set an auto responder for incoming emails letting everyone that emails you know that you’ll only be checking emails twice a day. You might opt to include your phone number on your autoresponder, so that if a person has an urgent query, they can call you directly.

Some people have a set schedule to reply to emails as a batch activity, while others (that have more discipline) tackle emails more frequently, usually during a short break. Determine what works best for you, then be strict about the rules you create for yourself. If you start off by telling yourself, “It’s just one email…”, 1 becomes 3, and 3 becomes 5, and then you get completely sucked into your emails and lose 28% of your work week productivity.

Use the 80/20 Rule

Not every email warrants a read or response, and a failure to recognize this can result in a lot of wasted time. The notorious Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) states that only 20% of inputs result in 80% of outputs. Using this principle, identify the types of emails and senders that warrant your attention, and unsubscribe from the rest, so they never have the chance to split your focus. Additionally, when you take the time to check your email, focus on your top 20% most important emails before paying an ounce of attention to the others.

Email Tip: Focus on the top 20% important emails before paying an ounce of attention to the others.

Don't Reply Immediately

If you’re the type of person to immediately reply to emails, you’ll probably recognize this common exchange:

  1. A person sends you an email
  2. You reply immediately
  3. They reply back immediately
  4. Repeat steps 2 & 3 until the conversation has reached a natural end

The best time to reply to emails is during your designated email times. If you make it a habit to respond immediately, you’re conditioning the other person to expect an immediate response. Additionally, when making it a habit to reply immediately, a full blown email exchange occurs, taking you completely away from whatever you were working on. Just say “no,” or better yet, “later.”

Email Tip: If you respond too soon you’re conditioning the other person to expect an immediate response.

When you do eventually reply, keep it short. The less emails you send, the less you'll get that require a response!

Create Email Templates

You’ve probably noticed that within your own email communications, there are trends relating to what types of emails you frequently send. Having a set template, especially for these frequently sent emails, can help reduce time wasted creating new emails from scratch. Gmail’s Canned Responses can allow you to easily save and access email templates.

Similarly, if you use one email for several different roles, create an email signature for each so you’re not constantly spending time making sure that you’re representing yourself correctly to the right audiences. Wisestamp is an excellent tool for creating an aesthetically pleasing email signature that can dynamically update for things like new blog posts on your company’s RSS feed (saving you even more time when it comes to promotional activities!).

Organize Your Inbox

Organize your Inbox

So before you can save a lot of time on checking your email, you’ve got to first invest a little more time in organizing your inbox. As far as where to start, there are no set rules and everyone has their own system. But the following ideas can help you to get started:

Remember that you don't have to read every email ASAP, or respond to them. Read only the ones that are relevant, and respond only to the ones that truly require a response. Don’t feel bad about clicking the “delete” button on the rest.

Use Email Filters

Create additional functionality for the labels you’ve created through the use of email filters.

There are two things to specify when creating a filter:

To share an example, think back to your “Read Later” label described above. You probably subscribe to some industry blogs that you enjoy reading, but you want to be able to consume that content according to a set time on your schedule. Create a filter that detects the sender’s email or the name of the publication, with a rule that automatically sends it to your “Read Later” label. Then, when the clock strikes “blog reading o’clock”, check that label for your latest relevant emails.

A filter automatically sends the emails to the folder you’ve designated, presorted before you even have the chance to look at it. If you think that by using filters you may miss out on an important email, consider having a member of your staff (like a personal assistant) screen your emails for you.

Turn Off Notifications

Organize your Inbox

One of the simplest and most effective email management tips is to simply turn off notifications. After all, to be productive, you have to be able focus on the work at hand--notifications are easy distractions. It takes 25 minutes before your mind can refocus after a distraction.

Turning off notifications on both your computer and smartphone will help you to control the urge to keep checking your email until the times you’ve set (out of sight, out of mind!).

Though there are a lot of distractions on your computer, sometimes it’s really your phone that is the most distracting. If you really can’t help yourself, consider physically removing your phone from where you’re working to avoid temptation.

Unsubscribe from Unwanted Emails

One of the more obvious email management tips is to unsubscribe from emails that never get opened, or that you never act on. A tool like Unroll.Me can help you to identify all of your email subscriptions, and makes it easy to get rid of the ones you are no longer interested in.

Unroll.Me also allows you to create a “rollup”, to which you’ll specify certain email senders you want to view emails from at certain times of the day (perhaps during your designated email checking times). A caveat for this popular service - they’ve recently gotten some bad press over data privacy concerns.

Stop Using Email At All

Organize your Inbox

This won't work with everyone, of course. But you can practice this within your team at least: Simply replace email with tools that are better suited for the job.

There are several project management tools like Planio which allow you to manage projects with a team, and communicate with team members through the tool. Specifically using Planio, you can use a number of features to aggregate information in one organized place: issue tracking, documents, forums, blogs, and wikis.

By communicating with your team within a project management tool, you won't be tempted to check your email, your inbox does not get clogged, and all relevant project files can be kept in one place. As a bonus, it keeps all relevant information together, easily accessible and searchable without having to dig through your inbox (and get distracted by new messages).

Emails don't have to deter you from being productive if you take charge of the systems and tools available to manage it. Invest some time in organizing your inbox as it stands today, unsubscribing from unnecessary emails that are splitting your attention, and creating systems to help you manage emails in the future. With the right tools and a little discipline, you can reclaim your work week productivity and demonstrate your effectiveness as an asset to your company and clients.

What are your best email management tips? Tweet @Planio, and we’ll share our favorites!