Email technology was invented in 1971, and it's still going strong.
But there's one thing they didn't anticipate back then. It's the fact that, about 50 years later, 320 billion emails would be sent every day.
Over the years, email started getting out of control. Today, processing emails is a huge time waste and an important factor of stress.
A study conducted by UC Irvine and the US Army has even established a clear impact of email on heart rate.
So if you value your time and your health, you need to pay attention to how you manage your email.
Here are some things you can start doing right away to improve your email management.
Use a task management tool
When you open your real-life mail, you don't put it back in your mailbox, do you?
The same goes with email.
A lot of people use their mailbox to manage their tasks.
Either by creating conversations with themselves or by marking read emails as "unread". That way they can go back to them later.
That's not sustainable as these emails end up being buried anyway. It also doesn't provide you with a clear view of what you should be doing.
A better way to deal with that is to use a task management tool or a to-do list. Open your email and if you need to take an action, create a task for it.
That way, you won't need to go back to your mailbox and sort by "unread" all the time.
Especially if you're dealing with important matters that don't need immediate action. Because it means that some emails will linger in your mailbox for days or weeks before you process them.
Avoid that altogether by using a task or a project management tool.
(Pro tip: in Rooftop, emails are tasks; try it now and see an immediate change in how you manage emails)
Categorize your emails
Priority management has become paramount.
In that sense, setting up categories for your emails makes things a lot easier.
Maybe you're in charge of several departments. Maybe you're in charge of several projects within your departments.
In any case, keeping conversations in the right category will save you a lot of time. It'll also offer unparalleled clarity.
You won't waste time looking for conversations. And you'll be able to know right away what the priorities in each project are.
Now it's probably all mixed together. But you can change that!
Set up automated rules
Automating your mailbox will save you a lot of headaches.
Imagine that you didn't have to sort the 150 emails you find in your mailbox every morning. What if they could just sort themselves?
Your email client likely allows you to make sure that emails end up in the right categories. It can be based on the sender, or on a word in the subject line, on the length of the text, etc.
That way, short emails that you can process quickly will end up in a specific category. Same for emails from a difficult client. And so on.
Use status labels
Read/Unread is a good start but it doesn't tell you much.
Creating status labels allows you to know what's going on at a glance.
It can tell you whether the situation is ongoing, stuck, in need of more research, etc.
In case you're using a shared inbox, it makes it easy for your teammates to take over and work more efficiently.
Build email templates
If you keep getting the same emails, then you probably also keep sending the same response. Especially if you handle customer requests.
Save time by preparing a few canned responses you can use in those situations. Keep them handy in a text document or in your mailbox.
There's a ton of great newsletters out there. But if you get too many of them, you end up not reading any of them.
Also, they tend to clog your inbox. Not only does it make it hard to manage your messages, but it also creates stress. And on top of that, you need to delete them every time you get them.
Starting now, instead of deleting them, unsubscribe. And be systematic about it.
FOMO might kick in. But if you haven't taken the time to read those newsletters for a long time then you weren't going to read them anyway.
Set up autoresponders
If you're getting a lot of emails, setting up an autoresponder can be a great help.
It can help manage expectations and provide your recipient with the information they need.
Here are a few examples of autoresponders you could set.
If you're getting a lot of emails, it could be worth it to let people know when they can expect a response. Or even let them know that they should insist if they don't get an answer within the specified timeframe.
That'll take a lot of pressure off your shoulders and your recipients will appreciate it.
You could also mention other people/resources they can turn to if relevant.
You might be getting a lot of emails that should be handled by someone else in the company.
In that case, setting up an autoresponder can help you save a lot of precious time.
This is what it can look like:
Thanks for reaching out! I received your message and will be processing it shortly.
For accounting matters, please write to Jerry at email@example.com
For marketing matters, please write to Elaine at firstname.lastname@example.org
That way, you don't have to waste time manually redirecting those emails.
Your product/website might be encountering problems. In that case, you might expect a bunch of emails to flood your inbox shortly.
While you probably can't avoid the flood of email, you can avoid having to respond manually.
This is what it can look like:
Thanks for reaching out!
We are aware that there currently is an issue with [XXX] and we're doing everything we can to solve it.
We're terribly sorry about the inconvenience. It should be resolved soon.
Feel free to respond to this email if you have extra questions.
This should satisfy the majority of people reaching out about that subject.
Delete it all
Desperate situations sometimes call for desperate measures.
Have you ever come back from vacation to find over 500 emails in your inbox? It's a nightmare.
If you're getting a lot of non-crucial emails, sometimes it's best just to delete them.
If the matter is important, the sender will follow up.
Check your emails 1-3 times a day
It's way more efficient to process emails in bulk than all throughout the day. Unless, of course, your job needs you to process them right away.
Processing two emails at once takes less time than processing two emails separately. It takes on average 64 seconds to back to a normal level of concentration after processing an email.
So the more emails you process separately, the more time you waste.
Set 1 to 3 times per day to process emails and stick to those.
If an email doesn't need to be processed right away, snooze it. Most email services allow you to make a message disappear and reappear at a chosen date and time.
That allows you to keep a clean inbox and not worry about the non-urgent stuff.
Use the 1-minute rule
Processing emails can be a daunting task.
An easy way to make this easier is to assess whether an email can be processed in 1 minute or less. If it can, then do it right away.
That should help you get closer to inbox zero.
Archive important emails
Don't let important emails linger in your mailbox. You could delete them by accident or it might be very difficult for you to retrieve them later. (Most mailbox search engines are notoriously bad.)
To avoid any of that, archive important emails. That way they won't clog up your inbox, and you can easily find them later.
When processing a bunch of emails, having a smooth workflow is essential.
To that end, you should use keyboard shortcuts to your advantage. Most email clients support them.
Here are a few Gmail shortcuts:
- ! : Mark as spam
- r : reply
- a : reply to all
- f : forward
- b : snooze
You can use most of those shortcuts in — among others — Airmail and Outlook.
About 76% of workers check their emails outside working hours. That can be problematic as email is an important factor of stress.
Email (and the habit of checking it) keeps people on constant high alert. Which leads to elevated heart rates and levels of stress.
This is the kind of habit that will lead you to hate your inbox. And to be less and less efficient. And more prone to burnout.
Avoid email altogether
Email tends to add up fast. Professionals send and received, on average, 127 emails every day.
So when you can avoid emailing someone, do so.
One of the easiest ways to reduce the volume of emails is to get rid of internal emails.
Internal emailing in a company can be replaced by tools like Slack or Teams.
Message your coworker directly. And if they need to take action, they can create a task on their to-do list.
(Pro tip: in Rooftop, emails are tasks; try it now and cut the time you spend on internal communication by 50%)
What are you starting with?
There's quite a bit you can do to start managing emails more effectively.
And the good thing is, you can start doing it right away, without having to invest any money.
So there's really no excuse!
Which tip are you going to implement first?