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The Lost Art of Emailing: How Emailing Can Make Us More Productive and Efficient Again

The Lost Art of Emailing: How Emailing Can Make Us More Productive and Efficient Again

Are you one of those people who see email as an annoyance and not a productivity tool? Do you see email as a barrier to getting things done? Then you are certainly not alone. Millions of people have grown to hate email because it piles up in a never-ending stream of messages, beeps and alerts. I see so many people with the alert bubble on their email app showing four figures. These people have simply given up on email and only respond to the emails they receive from their boss or most important customers. Instead they are turning to other communication tools such as Slack and Twist and quickly finding that rather than solving their problems, these apps just exasperates the

Why People Stop Using Email

The problem for most people is they have not learned how to manage their email, or if they do know how to manage their email, they do not practice those management methods on a daily basis. And like anything else, if you are not managing it, it soon descends into an unmanageable mess.

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Yet, email should never be seen in this way. Email is simply the best communications technology created in the last forty years or so. It allows us to communicate effortlessly with people on the other side of the world, it is real time and has allowed us the opportunity to be able to work from anywhere at any time. Email is quite possibly the best productivity tool there is.

How To Use Emails To Become More Productive Again

So, in the spirit of bringing email back into your life as a fundamental productivity tool you love using, here are five tips to get email working for you.

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1. Treat Your Inbox As a Collection Point

Your inbox is not a storage box. Your inbox is a place where new email is collected and then processed. In the days before email, when we received mail, we did not just look at the envelope, decide it was not important and stuff in back in the mailbox. We moved it somewhere. Our desk, the trash can or on the mantlepiece to be dealt with later. If you had stuffed the mail back into your mailbox, the mailman would have thought you rather weird. So don’t do that with email. When an email comes in, decide what needs to be done with it and move it to its appropriate place. Over time, you will get better at making these decisions and will soon find dealing with email is a breeze.

2. Set up a few basic folders

The emails we receive every day fall into a few very clear categories. There are emails that require you to do something, emails containing information, which requires no action from yourself except just read them sometime, and update emails that contain information you need to know about but need no action from yourself. So, the only folders you need are: “Action Today”, “Reference” and “Archive”. That’s it. Just three folders and you will have a place to put all your email and keep your inbox clean.

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3. Process them instead of just checking

Problems with email inboxes mount up when you ‘check’ email and not process it. Checking email is where most of the problems build up. If you look at an email in your inbox and do nothing with it, then your email problems will quickly mount up. Instead, when you go into your inbox, make a decision on each email about what it is and then move it to the right folder. If you need to do something with it, either do it right away and archive the email or if you do not have time, move it to your Action Today folder. It only takes a second or two to move an email, so get into the habit right now. Checking email means you are looking at an email and not making decisions about that email. That is such a waste of time. Look at the email once, make a decision what needs doing with the email to remove it from your inbox and do it.

4. Set up a separate email account for online purchases and promotions

Part of the reason we get so many emails is we happily give out our email address to anyone who asks for it. You wouldn’t give you private home address to any stranger who asks for it, so why do so many people give their email addresses out so readily? Instead, set up a webmail account with Gmail, Outlook or other company and use that for your online purchases, subscriptions and other stuff that requires an email address.

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Do not put this email address in your email app. I have an email address I only access through the web. It is not connected to my phone’s email app, nor is it connected to my computer’s email app. If I want to see what is in there, I log in via the web and check it. The only time I ever really check it is when I am waiting for a delivery, and once a week to read through the newsletters I subscribe to. For many people, this single trick will remove 50% of the email coming into their inboxes every day.

5. Write for the reader, not yourself

One reason so many people are constantly checking emails is they are waiting for a reply to an email. If you want a quick reply then you need to make it easy for the recipient to respond with the correct information. The structure for getting information quickly is “what and why”. When writing your email start with what you want — “Hi Nicola, could you send me a copy of last quarter’s sales figures?” — and, if necessary, in the next paragraph say why — “we need to finalise Q3’s accounts before the end of the month…” — What this does is allows the receiver to see exactly what you want from their notification screen and can quickly make a decision about responding to you. If you begin your email with a preamble about how good a weekend you had, and when you hope to see the recipient, your email is going to be at the bottom of the recipient’s priority list. Remember: what do you want? And why do you want it?

By adopting these five simple tips, your relationship with email will change forever. You will quickly stop hating email, and your love affair will blossom again. Email will become a fountain of productivity and energy. You will know what needs doing and you will never miss an important email again.

Email is not the problem, it is how we manage email that is the problem. By taking a few simple steps to organise our email, we can focus less on creating an email mountain and more on the joys and wonder of email.

More by this author

Carl Pullein

Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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