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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

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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More by this author

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 10, 2020

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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