Emails are a boon and a bane. While it gives me the flexibility to remove the real-time barrier, it is one of the factors that kill productivity.
At work especially, where you and I are measured on effectiveness and productivity, if we don’t have control over emails, then we are as good as dead. Perhaps we can do away with emails, that is something I have managed to achieve in some projects but people essentially and ingrained to using emails, and even after Slacking them, they get back to writing emails.
Just for the record, I manage two separate office email boxes. I get anywhere between 150-200 emails in each of the mail boxes. Do I read every single one of them. Read the rest of the post to find out.
In this post, I will share some of the management techniques that I use for office emails to counter non-productivity effects of it.
GTD Principle – 60 Second Rule
David Allen’s getting things done principles are timeless. Even after two decades since it came out, most of the principles listed down still apply.
My favorite and the one that is relevant here is the 60-second rule. If you come across an email where responding to it takes less than 60 seconds, then do it right away. Don’t stack it away for later doing. The logic is simple enough. It takes more time to catalog it, retrieve it and then responding to it.
Don’t Live Out of your Email
I know people who literally monitor their email boxes better than professional monitoring tools. They are eager, anxious and burdened to respond to emails. To them, emails are like debts. They like to be free. This is not good unless your job is to monitor emails and respond back to them. For the most of us, emails are just a means of communication and we need to manage it and not the other way around.
So, you need to ensure that you are driven by your email box but rather you take command of it. How do you stay in charge? Simple. Stay away from your email box. Don’t read it all the time.
This is what I do. I check my emails every couple of hours. In between, I do other things like meeting people and preparing proposals. I make it a point to not read emails in between. It was hard to start with, and now that I have done it for a good while, I love it. I am productive. Some people complain that I am not efficient with my email responses. The answer to them is this – if something is important, then don’t email me. Either ping me or call me..
Use Email Rules Effectively
You need to remove the grain from the chaff. No better tool than the rules. I told you about the email count I receive. I don’t read every one of them. I filter them out.
Some of my filters are:
- Emails coming to a distribution list which I am part of goes to a different folder
- Emails where I am in CC goes to a different folder
- Email body where my name isn’t present in the body goes to another folder
- Some auto emails go into a folder that I never read, there are people in my team who read it if needed
Most people I know in my professional circles never delete an email, even if it comes from a spammer. The reason they state is that they don’t like to take a chance by deleting emails. You never know when you need to refer to it, and possibly respond to it. I can’t ever imagine responding back to a social marketer!
In my opinion, unimportant emails add to the clutter. When push comes to shove, you will be forced to search your mailbox and in times such as these, these emails junk your search results. So what do I do? You guessed it right. Delete it. Anyway most organization rules don’t purge the delete items folder for about 90 days. That’s sufficient time for me to recover if I need to. In my career, I have never had to.
Mark Emails that are Yet to be Responded
The emails that I need to respond, but not right away, either because it will not happen in 60 seconds or I don’t have all the facts at that point in time, I stack it away separately.
Earlier, I had a folder for responding and I used to dump these emails there. After a while I noticed that my administrative work around moving emails back and forth was making me unproductive. So what I have started doing now is that I leave such emails as unread. And when I am ready to reply, I put the unread emails filter on and then respond accordingly.
Another way to do the same although I don’t necessarily completely recommend it is to add labels. And filter based on labels to identify such emails. Although it sounds neat, the administration around labeling is cumbersome in my opinion.
Turn Off Email Notifications
I saved the best for the last. Email notifications are productivity killers. Trust me when I say this. It’s good in a number of other activities but not for emails. The mere sight of a notification makes us want to open the email right away, although our designated email time is not for another 90 minutes.
My advice is to turn it off and don’t look back at this decision because this is the best decision you would have taken in a long time. Let your time with your mailbox deal with the emails rather than sporadic notifications popping up.
Here is a fun fact from a study. Once you get distracted by an email notification, it takes about 23 minutes to get back to whatever you were doing.