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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 October 22, 2020

2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

Good things come in twos: Peanut butter and jelly, Day and night, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The same is true for what sparks our creative energy: our thoughts and actions.

Creativity is an inside job as much as it is about a conducive schedule, physical environment, and supportive behaviors. By establishing the right internal and external landscape, creativity can blossom from the abstract to the concrete and we can have fun along the way.

Sparking creativity is all about setting up the right conditions so a spark is ignited and sustained. The sparks don’t fizzle out. They are allowed to grow and ripen.

Think of a garden. Intention alone will not produce the delicious red tomato nor will the readiest seed. That seed needs attention at its nascent stage and as it grows a stalk and produces fruit. If we want to enjoy more than one fruit, we keep at it, cultivating the plant and reaping multiple harvests.

Creativity lives in each of us like seeds in the earth or encapsulated in a nut. Seeds of ideas, concepts, designs, stories, images, and even ways of communicating that surprise and delight await activation.

By sparking our creative energy, we activate these unique seeds. Like snowflakes, they are of a moment and always without a match. The smallest sparks encourage even the smallest, most dormant seeds to sprout.

The good news is that our creative energy wishes to be sparked—to be invited to play. It wants to be our regular playmate.

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1. Be Childlike in Your Thoughts, Attitudes, and Approach

Being childlike in our thoughts, attitudes, and approach is an easy way to internally have our thoughts be gracious prolific gardeners to our creative energy. If we want it to come out and play and hang around as our regular companion, then let’s return to our 5-year-old selves.

Our childhood selves are naturally curious. We still have that curiosity! All we have to do is remind ourselves to get curious. We can do that by simply observing and being with what is in front of us instead of making up a story about what won’t work or why something can’t be done. So, it’s about cultivating curiosity instead of jumping into judgment.

Move Your Inner Judge to the Sidelines

When we get curious, creativity percolates and, ultimately, takes its place in the world. To give a hand in choosing curiosity over judgment, we can move the judge that also lives inside us to the sidelines. The judge squashes our creative urges, even when they are as small as sharing a point of view. It’s that pesky voice that causes us to doubt ourselves or worry about what others will think.

The judge is also risk-averse. The judge likes things to stay the same. Change makes the judge nervous.

Creativity is all about risk and changing things up. It needs risk, even failure, to be its naturally innovative, dynamic, impactful self. The judge likes to convince us failure is something to be avoided at all costs.

To move the judge to the sidelines and let curiosity reign, we can pay attention to who we are in conversation with and who is calling the shots.

Is it the voice of fear, doubt, or anxiety (the inner-critic—the judge’s boss)? Or is it the voice of wisdom, courage, strength, and non-attachment, and of course curiosity (the inner-leader)?

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We can easily tell the difference by how each makes us feel. The inner-critic depletes and slows us down, putting roadblocks in the way. The inner-leader energizes and a natural rhythm develops.

It’s all about who we spend time with. If we wish to exercise, we will seek out our friends who go to the gym or hike. If we want to lose some weight, we will opt to eat dinner with someone who prefers a healthy spot over fast food.

After getting curious, we can honor what our curiosity prompts us to do. The spark can do its job and a fire starts to glow when commitment enters. Our childhood selves were fully committed to being creative. That level of commitment is still something we are very capable of exercising!!

Again, we need to let go of the judge. We can ask ourselves, what do we want to commit to—negativity that depletes our creative energy, depth, and output, or the understanding that our thoughts and attitudes matter and that right thoughts and attitudes are the sparks that really let our creativity come alive?

Learn to Recall Your Childhood Self

To get in touch with that unabashedly committed childhood self, recall your childhood self. If you have a picture, pull one out. Keep it around so you can remember to activate that innate creative nature that was prominent then and wants to be prominent now and always.

Soak in the essence of that being. Commit to their commitment to brave and dogged trial and error because it is yours as well. You are that person.

Remember how tenacious you were when you wanted to build that sandcastle. You kept at it as the waves came in. You built with fury or reconfigured the walls. Also, remember that there was a willingness to fail since you were as invested in the process as well as the outcome—but less with the outcome. You were willing to experiment and start again. There was vitality—the main lifeline of your creative energy—instead of a rigid attachment.

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When you notice you are in conversation with your inner-critic or being held back by it, simply acknowledge, name it, and then switch to your inner-leader by taking a few good deep belly breaths, rubbing two fingertips together, or listening to ambient sounds in the background.

Physical movements shift our negative thoughts over to the positive domain of the inner-leader. As our judge continues to sit on the sidelines, our ability to quiet the inner-critic becomes stronger. We taste freedom. A simple taste emboldens us to say no again to the judge and yes to what makes our hearts and spirits sing—our creativity.

We begin to spark creativity to the point it no longer needs to be invited to play. It becomes our regular playmate—the younger sibling or the kid next door ready to have some fun, maybe even make some mischief by shaking things up.

When we align with our inner-leader and think and act from its promptings, creativity flows up and out with ease, as it needs to!

Letting those initial sparks generate a creativity fire that keeps burning is something we can all do! That’s the inside job.

2. Listen to Your Inner Leaders of Creative Energy

If we listen, our inner-leaders will let us know just what we need to set-up and do in our physical world to maximize that gorgeous, hungry creativity we now have flowing freely in us.

The seed has been unlocked! So, now what?

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To enable our creative energy to take its form and place outside of us, there needs to be spaciousness! Spaciousness in our physical worlds impacts our internal one. It lets the voice of the inner-leader be heard. It lets creativity have room to be sparked and acted upon.

With a little discipline, we can easily create spaciousness in our daily lives—spaciousness that will spark our creativity and let it take shape.

So, no matter who you are and what conditions help your creativity thrive, check-out these easy-to-implement basic suggestions:

  • Reduce or eliminate multi-tasking.
  • Say yes to what matters and what aligns with your big values and goals.
  • Say no to all else.
  • Say no again.
  • Schedule time in your calendar as you do with other things in your life to just be, to ponder, to let ideas percolate, and to create.
  • Spend time doing the things that bring out your creative energy. It could be walking, singing, or simply looking out the window.
  • Meditate.
  • Breathe—long breaths in and long breaths out through the nose.
  • Invite your body and heart into your experiences so your mind is a part of you and not all of you.
  • Try a new thing to spark your creativity. If you spend time running, try a different route. If running feels stale, cruise around a museum, or go for a bike ride.
  • Play a game. Indoors out or outside. Think of what makes you happy that you haven’t done in a while. Is it a physical game like badminton or cards? Maybe it’s storytelling? Play is creative, and it sparks the creative energy, too.
  • Spend time in the places that bring out your creativity. What spot in your home could be your spot for entering into that mode? Do you need to get out? Maybe a park bench is the right spot, with a book of poetry, or even nothing at all.
  • Spend time in nature. Nature brings us to a place of calm and awe and through that our creativity is easily sparked.

Final Thoughts

These are all habits—habits of mind and habits of doing. Experiment with what works for you. Have fun. If you give even 50% to altering your thoughts and actions, then you will begin to spark your creativity. It takes a lot of curiosity and commitment, but it can definitely be done.

Our innate creative energy is a deep source of all that we seek—joy, connection, renewal. It deserves and looks forward to the changes you will make that will let sparks fly and ignite!

More Tips to Spark Your Creative Energy

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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