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Top 10 Email Habits that Everyone Should Have

Top 10 Email Habits that Everyone Should Have

For the full original unedited article visit Leo Babauta’s blog, Zen Habits

‘And none will hear the postman’s knock
Without a quickening of the heart.
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?’
~W.H. Auden

Email can be a great tool, and email can be a tool for procrastination or overwhelm.

It’s not email itself that decides, it’s how you use it.

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There was a time when I declared email bankruptcy, but these days I do it 2-3 times daily and power through it quickly and minimally.

I’ve developed a set of habits that work for me, helping me to keep email minimal and productive and still be able to focus on more important work. I can honestly say that at least once a day, my inbox is empty, and that’s a nice feeling.

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I offer them here not to say that these are the email habits you should follow, but to show one person’s way of doing things.

My Essential Email Habits

The email habits that work for me:

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  1. Limited email processing times. I don’t keep email open all day, nor do I open it frequently. I have come to peace with the idea that I can let email pile up to 20-30 messages and my world won’t collapse, nor will it be difficult to process to empty. Note that I call it “email processing time”, not “email reading time” — I open my email and process to empty, instead of just reading things and leaving them in the inbox.
  2. Take action. When I open an email, I make a quick decision: delete/archive, act now (if it takes a minute or two) and then reply/archive, send a quick reply (and then archive), add to my todo list to do later (and star and then archive). In none of those cases is the email left sitting in the inbox.
  3. Immediately add things to the calendar. One of my best habits is to open up my calendar immediately whenever there’s a date from an email that I need to remember. If someone wants to meet or Skype or do a workout, it goes on the calendar. If I need to follow up on something next week, it goes on the calendar. It’s automatic now, and so I rarely ever forget anything.
  4. Keyboard shortcuts. I use Gmail, which has a great set of shortcuts for processing email. I spent a few minutes learning them, and if you consciously use them, soon they become muscle memory. The key ones for me: ‘gi’ to go back to the inbox, ‘a’ for archive, Shift-3 to delete, ‘c’ for compose, ‘r’ for reply, ‘f’ for forward, ‘a’ to reply to all, ‘gs’ to go to my starred messages, Tab Return when I’m composing a message to send and archive it. I also have it set to go to the next message in the inbox after I delete or archive a message, rather than going back to the inbox, so I quickly process from top to bottom.
  5. Keep emails short. I usually reply with 1-3 sentences. It’s rare that I will send a message longer than 5 sentences, and if I do, I have to really justify it to myself. If something needs to be written in longer form, I’d prefer to open a new Google Doc, write it up, and share it with the person (docs are better for sharing, collaborating, editing, reading). Keeping emails short means it’s quick to reply, and the other person doesn’t have to wade through an essay to get the key information.
  6. Quick todo list adding. An email inbox isn’t a great todo list, because 1) your todos are mixed in with all kinds of other things, making it hard to figure out what needs to be done; 2) the subject lines of emails don’t often contain the actual action needed, so you have to remember what needs to be done when you scan your subject lines; and most importantly, 3) as you are checking your todo list (your inbox), other messages come in to demand your attention, and so you’re always distracted. Better is to keep a simple text document. I use Launchbar to append text to my todo list, so adding a todo item is a matter of a few keystrokes. That makes it effortless, which means I can quickly form a nice list without the distractions of an inbox.
  7. Keep only unread emails in inbox. This one is for advanced users only, but I have hacked my Gmail inbox so that only unread emails are in my inbox. What this means is that if I read an email and don’t act on it, it disappears from my inbox. That forces me to act now, or I will lose the email to the ether. This is built-in motivation to actually process the email, and in practice this helps you keep your inbox empty. (hat-tip to dbuntix)
  8. Bookmark or read later. Often someone will send me something to read (something they’ve written or an article they like). I will open the link, then bookmark it to read later, or add to Instapaper to read later. That way I don’t spend a ton of time in email because I have a lot of reading to do.
  9. Filter ruthlessly. When an email appears in my inbox that I don’t need to see, and it’s likely that it will happen again, I will hit “unsubscribe”, or immediately create a filter so it won’t come into my inbox again. This drastically reduces my emails. I’m ruthless about it, and will even apply it to people who bother me.
  10. Close email when done. When I’ve processed my email as much as I can, I close it. I don’t need to open it again until hours later, if at all.

If your inbox is really full, here’s how to clear it out quickly: for to-dos that are in your inbox, star them, put them on a to-do list, and archive. Archive and delete others, make some quick replies, put everything else in a “to-read” or “to-process” folder if you need to. Now you have an empty inbox that you can keep empty with the habits in this article.

 

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Having good email habits is important simply because if you trust yourself to process email effectively, you won’t worry about it. You can let it pile up as you do more important work, with the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’ll get it to empty when you decide to get to it.

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How to Be Productive: 11 Ways to Be Productive and Happy at Once

How to Be Productive: 11 Ways to Be Productive and Happy at Once

A lack of productivity leads to a lack of happiness.

When you can’t see yourself making progress or getting things done, you get anxious and become stressful.

There are also tons of things that contribute to unhappiness here too: Facebook notifications, emails, texts, and chatty co-workers are just a small fraction of the disruptions we’re bombarded with. These “little things” can stack up fast and lead to hampering your happiness and productivity levels.

Learn how to be productive with the 11 tips below and reclaim your everyday productivity and your happiness, once and for all.

1. Be happy now

Life is too short. No matter what you’re doing or where you are, be happy now. Start by finding something to be grateful for; everyone has at least one thing to be grateful for.

Most of the world still has trouble getting access to clean drinking water… yhat means you can even be grateful for that bottle of Aquafina you’ve got on your desk right now.

2. Finish your day before it starts

Proper planning is the secret to peak productivity, and it’s also a good idea to set daily goals. Get yourself a planning tool and prioritize your daily tasks with it.

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Here’s a smart technique on planning and prioritization: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

3. Celebrate the small wins

Every time you check off a task from your to-do list, you release a “happy chemical” in your brain called dopamine. This gives you the motivation to move forward and do even more.

For example, after I finish writing this article and I’ve crossed it off my list of things to do today, I’ll get a nice burst of “happy chemicals” releasing in my brain. The best part? Zero side effects!

Learn from here: How To Celebrate Small Wins To Achieve Big Goals

4. Leverage like there’s no tomorrow

Look for ways to use the good old 80/20 rule by identifying tasks that you might be able to outsource or leverage out to a virtual assistant.

Stop wasting time doing things that don’t challenge you or ignite your passion. Hire out or automate anything and everything within your means.

Check out this guide to find out how to start to delegate: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

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5. Recharge your batteries

Figure out how many hours of sleep your body needs and make sure you get it. Take time to stretch, walk, or relax—you’ll be glad you did.

Here’re some simple ways to relax completely and get rid of stress.

6. Become an early riser

This is one of the most underused productivity “hacks” on the planet. Ever since I decided to start waking up at 5am every day, my productivity levels and happiness have gone up dramatically.

Most people aren’t up that early, so no one can bother you or disrupt you from what you want to do. Use this time to exercise, meditate, or to get a head start on your day.

Not sure how to wake up earlier? Here are 11 Ways To Become an Early Riser Like Most Successful People Do.

7. Do work you’re passionate about

Make it your goal to blur the line between work and play by doing more things you’re passionate about. This promotes happiness both inside and outside of the workplace.

Find what you’re passionate about and do it, or learn how to enjoy what you do with these tips: How to Enjoy What You Are Doing No Matter What

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8. Use time blocks

For example, when I wrote this article, I gave myself a one hour time block. This prevents unnecessary dilly-dallying like updating your Facebook status and checking email.

Use an app like Alarmed to keep you on track.  Here’s a snapshot of the app from my iPhone.

    9. Avoid interruptions

    Interruptions are among the biggest barriers to both productivity and happiness. Every time you’re interrupted in the middle of a task your level of productivity takes a hit.

    We’ve all been there: you’re fully immersed in an important project until all of a sudden the workplace chatterbox appears out of nowhere and starts talking about stuff that doesn’t matter. By the time she’s gone, you’ve already forgotten where you were and it takes 30 minutes to get back on track.

    Avoid this by letting people know that you’ve got important work that’s got to be done.

    Learn more about how to stay focus in this guide: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

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    10. Shut down the digital disruptions

    iPhones, mailbox notifications, twitter, facebook, and everything that pops, slides, or fades in and out of your screen has got to go. Shut them down and focus.

    It’s as easy as turning off the notifications or scheduling only a specific time to check all these notifications and texts.

    11. Measure your success

    Every now and then, it’s a good idea to measure your results and see how things are coming along.

    How’s your progress? Are you pacing in the right direction? Are things getting better? Worse? It’s always a good idea to track your progress regularly.

    With an app like Rescue Time, you can easily keep track of the time you spend throughout the day. It helps you to find out how much time you’re really on-task and so you can review your progress.

      With these 11 effective ways to improve productivity, you will get more things done timely and become happier.

      Start small and take up each suggestion one by one, you can boost your productivity and create your happiness too.

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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