For many people these days, email = work.
It’s just the sad (or not that sad) truth of the modern world of professionals, entrepreneurs, creatives and everyone in between.
Quite frankly, if you’re not effective with your email, you might as well not even bother coming to work.
So let’s take a closer look into this topic today, and try to make ourselves a bit more productive with our emails. The key to all this is mastering certain email management skills, ten of them, to be more exact.
1. Pick your money-making emails and prioritize them
Email management is a game of knowing where to pay the most attention and what to potentially ignore completely.
No matter your profession or the type of business you’re in, you should look for a specific category of emails that just happen to be more valuable than anything else.
If you’re in any sort of agency business (design, writing, freelancing, etc.) then those emails are usually your sales emails or some other emails that lead a client to signing a deal with you. Mastering them is how you make money. It’s how you’re turning your hours into productive output.
This is something that Ruben Gamez – founder of Bidsketch proposal software – points out when asked: “What is the #1 email management skill that entrepreneurs and professionals should master?”
Learning how to segment email for response time. For example, at Bidsketch we’ve learned that the customers with the fastest response times to proposals, close more sales.
So how can you be responsive while not destroying your productivity? You should treat sales related emails differently, and send them either to a different folder, or email address. This leaves a much more manageable number of messages, that can be responded to soon after they come in. Other types of messages can (and should) wait.
2. Touch every email just once
Here’s what I mean. It’s very common for us to naturally mark an important email with a star, and tell ourselves that we’ll come back to it later. Then, later comes and we repeat the process again, thinking, “I’ll deal with this tomorrow.”
This is a major waste of time.
A simpler solution?
Try a variation of the “Touch It Once” principle that Ann Gomez taught me.
In a nutshell, process each email the first time you “touch” it. This means either responding to that email right away, or creating a separate task for it somewhere else. That way, your inbox remains clear.
3. Don’t treat your inbox as a to-do list
Your inbox is simply not organized in a way that would warrant treating it as a to-do list. If you do so, you’ll quickly find yourself lost in the sea of starred emails, half-done drafts, and probably more than a handful of people angry at you.
Instead, turn emails into tasks, and then move them away to other tools.
My recommendation is to use Todoist for this purpose. In a nutshell, it’s a cloud-based to-do list and task manager. Plus, it has very good integration with Gmail, which should make things even easier for you.
In short, whenever you stumble upon an email that requires some action, turn it into a Todoist task and clear it from your inbox right away.
4. Use just one app/tool across all your devices
This may sound simple, but it’s actually surprising how many people fall into a trap of using multiple apps to manage their email. Now, the sole multitude of tools isn’t the problem. The real problems start when those tools aren’t synchronized with one another.
What you end up with is an inconsistent inbox, an inbox that looks different based on which tool you access it through.
Simple solution: Use just one tool across your all devices. For instance, if you’re on Gmail, use the native Gmail tool everywhere. If you like Outlook, then use only that. Just don’t combine different email tools.
5. Deal with email just twice a day
Even though I might have said that “email is work” at the beginning of this post, it’s actually rarely the case.
For most people, email is not what makes the money, and therefore it shouldn’t take up most of your working hours.
A simple solution is to just deal with email twice a day: once in the morning, and once in the afternoon.
And most importantly, disable all email notifications. Notifications cause interruptions. Those interruptions are more costly than you would expect. For example, as explained in this resource by Harvard Business Review:
According to a University of California-Irvine study, regaining our initial momentum following an interruption can take, on average, upwards of 20 minutes.
6. Utilize template responses
The key to many people’s productivity is their ability to not reinvent the wheel with their email responses, so to speak.
The whole trick is identifying the exact moment when a template response could be employed, instead of re-writing the same email over and over again.
There are just two steps to mastering this skill:
- Identify common scenarios and types of email that you send out the most often.
- Create template responses for them.
One way to do it is with a tool like Yesware. Among its other features, it allows you to create such personalized email templates, and then send them out whenever needed.
7. Tame your newsletter subscriptions
If you’re like most people then you’re probably subscribed to a lot of stuff online (newsletters). Whether those are newsletters from your favorite sports teams, industry news, hobby sites, there’s likely a ton of them.
Check out Unroll.Me. It’s an all-in-one tool for managing your email subscriptions. You can set it up to send you one digest email rather than receiving tens of individual newsletter emails.
8. Be mindful of what’s going on in your inbox
“A thousand things screaming for your attention” – just about does it for a good description of your inbox, doesn’t it?
I asked Catalin Zorzini, founder of Matcha-Tea.com, to shed some light on this problem, and answer one simple question: “What’s your most valuable email habit?”
What if that instead of training ourselves to work more, to become faster or more efficient, we could actually fabricate more time so that we could manage our inbox in a more relaxed mindset, without a sense of urgency?
From what I’ve learned, this is entirely possible and can be achieved quite easily.
Cultivate a more relaxed way of “living while working.” What I mean by that is to overcome the “autopilot” mode, and to learn how to become more aware of every single task that we’re doing on the computer (especially dealing with email), make choices from a more grounded position, and mix “work” with “fun” so that we feel we have more time.
This way, we become able not only to achieve inbox zero, but to enjoy the miracle of being alive, which we take so much for granted when we are on autopilot.”
In short, realize that what you do in your inbox has a direct impact on what you’ll do throughout the rest of your day (or week). So be mindful of that, and only devote time to things that can benefit you. The #1 trick to email management is ignoring most of it.
9. Send short emails. Only.
If you’ve been in the military then you probably know what BLUF – “bottom line up front” stands for.
In short, it’s a communication principle that encourages us to start every message with the request at the beginning, rather than burying it or building up to it.
We tend to wrongly assume that our “ask” needs a sufficient built-up, or otherwise the person we’re contacting will say no. But as it turns out, people naturally omit the build-up part anyway and go straight to the “meat” of the message.
10. Find replacement tools for things you’d otherwise do via email
Although we might be accustomed to email, and we’re familiar with the tools and the process of using them, very often we’re going to be way better off abandoning email in favor of other solutions.
- Doing client proposals via email? Don’t. Use the aforementioned Bidsketch instead. It will not only track your every proposal, but it will also let you know when your clients see them.
- Using your inbox as CRM? Again, don’t. Check out Nutshell CRM or something similar. Way more effective and easier to grasp.
The examples are plenty. The general rule would be to always single out the email tasks that cost you a lot of time, and then try to find replacement solutions that are more effective. There’s always something.