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10 Email Management Skills Everyone Should Learn to Be More Productive

10 Email Management Skills Everyone Should Learn to Be More Productive
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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?”

His answer:

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.

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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.

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There are just two steps to mastering this skill:

  1. Identify common scenarios and types of email that you send out the most often.
  2. 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?”

His advice:

“Fabricating time.

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.

Two things: Practice mindfulness, and apply the either “HELL YEAH!” or no approach to your inbox.

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.

For example:

  • 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.

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Karol Krol

Blogger, published author, and founder of a site that's all about delivering online business advice

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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