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.
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.
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.
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.
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.