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Last Updated on February 21, 2018

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.

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Carl Pullein

Carl helps people all over the world to achieve their maximum potential by becoming better organised and more productive.

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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