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Last Updated on October 5, 2022

13 Tips for Effective Email Management

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13 Tips for Effective Email Management

How much time do you spend managing your e-mails every day? 30 minutes or maybe a few hours?

While emails are intended to facilitate communication, I suspect it sometimes becomes counter-productive because we spend so much time managing our inbox! For example, think of these instances:

  • Do you sometimes keep clicking into your inbox, even though you just checked it only 5 minutes ago?
  • Do you spend much time managing your e-mails daily, like searching past mail, sorting, organizing, and deleting old mail?
  • Do you often make e-mails your priority rather than actually getting things done?
  • Are there days when you spend more time in your inbox than doing proper work?

At the end of the day, an email is just a tool for you to get your tasks done. Below are some tips to improve your email management:

13 Tips to Improve Your Email Management

1. Process Your Mail Once a Day

According to a survey conducted by Adobe, they found that American workers spend a total of 5 hours of their day checking emails – both personal and professional.[1]

Oprah’s favorite organizational expert is a woman called Julie Morgenstern, author of Never Check Email in the Morning: And Other Unexpected Strategies for Making Your Work Life Work.

According to Morgenstern, checking your email first thing when you get into the office each morning is problematic because it can create a false sense of accomplishment. You answer 40 emails, and you feel like you’ve done a lot of work, but in reality, you probably still have piles of paperwork, meetings, and phone calls to make. Answering emails is essential to doing your work, but it isn’t always something that is actively making money for you or your company.

Even though I check my mail several times a day just to be in the loop (in case there’s something weird going on, like my website going down or if there’s an urgent request), I don’t process them right away. I only do so once a day, either at the beginning of the day or in the evenings.

What to do:

Set aside a daily time slot to process your emails. If you don’t finish within the time slot, continue the next day. Prioritize the more important ones and let go of the rest.

If you are in a working-level position where you get a lot of time-sensitive emails, you can still put this into practice. The point is not to let email run over your life. Remember, it’s a tool to help you do your work, not the work itself.

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2. Prioritize 20% of Emails; Defer 80%

Not all emails are the same. I love the 80/20 rule because it applies to every area of our lives, including emails. The 80/20 rule is the idea that 20% of inputs are responsible for 80% of the outputs in any situation. Hence, to be effective, we should focus on 20% of inputs that lead to 80% of outputs. Likewise, we should focus on 20% of high-value emails that lead to maximum output.

My 20% emails are the ones that give me the next breakthrough in my work. They can be media requests, interview spots, networking opportunities, business leads, speaking opportunities, and other things that lead to my 20% business goals. My 20% emails also include people who have invested in my work, such as my 1-1 coaching clients, speaking engagements, and readers who bought my courses and products. Last but not least, correspondences with my good friends also fall here.

Everything else goes into the 80% mail.

What to do:

For the 20% of emails, give them a significant priority. I usually reply to them immediately (especially if they meet the 1-minute rule in #9); if not, I’ll get to them in 1-3 days. For 80% of mail, I take longer to reply, sometimes not even replying (see point #4).

3. Have a “Reply by XX Day” Folder

File the mail that needs your reply in a “Reply by XX Day” folder, where XX is the day of the week.

What to do:

Set three days weekly to reply to emails. I respond on Tues, Thu, and Sat. This way, I’m not pressured to reply immediately whenever I get the mail. I read it, mentally acknowledge it, and think it over until it’s time to reply (an average of 3-8 days from receipt of the mail).

4. Realize You Don’t Need to Reply to Every Email

Despite what you think, you don’t need to reply to every mail. Sometimes, no reply after a certain time period can be considered a reply in itself too.

I get a high volume of reader mail, and for a period of time, I used to reply to every single mail that came in. It didn’t do anything for me. I would be spending the whole day just replying to mail, and by the end of the day, I would be drained out, unable to do any real work. And interestingly, pretty much all the mail I reply to never gets a return response of any sort (not even an acknowledgment or thank you), even when I post follow-up questions to help them further.

I suspect half the mail doesn’t get read, and the other half are emails that people send on impulse, and replies don’t really matter. Either way, I have realized it’s much more effective to use the time on more high-value tasks, such as working on high-value and content-rich products, supporting my 1-1 coaching clients, new projects, and writing new articles.

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What to do:

Don’t stress too much about replying to every single mail. Reply if it helps, but if the costs of replying don’t outweigh the benefits, then maybe it’s not worth worrying about it. Just let it be, and things will sort themselves out through time.

5. Create Template Replies if You Often Send Similar Replies

If you look through your sent folder, you’ll probably find a trend in things you reply to. The mail I receive on my site can usually be classified into one of the few categories:

  • Feedback/thank you mail
  • 1-1 Coaching
  • Requests for book/product reviews
  • Speaking inquiries
  • Other

For points one and two, I use templates that I have written beforehand, which I use in my replies. As I reply, I would customize them accordingly to fit the needs of the original mail. This saved me huge amounts of time compared to in the past when I would type emails from scratch.

What to do:

Look through your email responses and compose different templates to have readily available.

6. Read Only the Relevant Emails

I subscribe to several newsletters, such as on fitness, self-help, blogging, and business, but I don’t read all the emails they send. I don’t delete them either because I know they have valuable information. Instead, I set Gmail to archive them to different labels (folders) automatically.

Blog emails get archived into the blogging folder; fitness mails get archived into the health & fitness folder, and so on. As of now, I have about 30 folders. I only read them when I want to get more information on the topic.

What to do:

You don’t need to read every single mail that comes in. Pick and select what’s relevant to you.

7. Structure Your Emails Into Categories

Folders (or labels, if you use Gmail) are there to help you organize your emails. Firstly, use a relevant naming system for what you’re doing. If your biggest priorities now are writing a book and losing weight, then name your folders as that. Secondly, use a hierarchy structure.

What to do:

First-level folders are for the big categories, and second-level folders are for sub-categories, and so on. For example, I have “Admin” as a first-level folder and “Back-Up,” “Accounting,” “Accounts,” etc. as second-level folders. If need be, I have third-level folders to segment them further. Gmail has an add-on that lets you use different tier labels (Settings > Labs > Nested Labels)

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Using filters (#8) to organize mail into folders automatically works wonders.

8. Use Filters

Currently, my Gmail has about 20 different filters set up for different email addresses, subject titles, body text, and whatnot. Depending on the filter, the mail will be automatically sorted into a respective folder / archived. This minimizes the number of administrative actions I need to do.

What to do:

Filters are tools that help you sort out the mail automatically when it gets into your mail. Two basic things are required for a filter – the term to look out for and the action to apply if the term is matched.

9. Use the 1-Minute Rule When Replying

If it takes within 1 minute to reply, reply to it immediately and archive it. Don’t let it sit in your mailbox for ages. It’s going to take even more effort, letting it hover around your mind and being constantly reminded that you need to reply.

What to do:

Keep to the 1-minute time frame when replying, so it does not take more time than needed. This helps me to clear big batches of mail in a short amount of time.

10. Set a Time Limit

Beyond the 1 minute rule, limit the overall time you spend in your inbox. The next time you check your mail, time yourself. See how long you take to process, read, reply, and sort through your mail. Then ask yourself how much of that time is well-spent. Chances are, most of that served absolutely no purpose.

At times, you’ll get emails that are alarmingly long. For these emails, scan through, see if there’s anything relevant to you, then process them accordingly.

What to do:

Reply if needed (and use the 1-minute rule); archive it if you don’t plan to reply. If you’re going to reply, don’t feel the need to revert with a lengthy mail just because the person wrote a long mail. The last thing you want is an email exchange of essays, which will inadvertently result in you falling into an email black hole. Log into your inbox, do what you need to, and get out immediately.

Setting time limits for tasks makes us focus more on the task and better utilize our time.[2]

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11. (Ruthlessly) Unsubscribe From Things You Don’t Read

In your cruising around the web, you probably sign up for a fair share of newsletters and feeds on impulse, which you lose interest in afterward. If you find yourself repeatedly deleting the mail from your subscriptions, it’s a cue that you should just unsubscribe immediately.

What to do:

Set a designated time in the week and sift through your inbox with the intent to unsubscribe.

12. Use Keyboard Shortcuts

You should make using keyboard shortcuts your habit, at least as long as you’re in the field of information technology. By doing so, you’ll save a lot of time on emails and can use that time to do something creative.

What to do:

If you want to compose an email without hitting that compose button, simply hit the appropriate shortcut keys, which should do the magic.

13. An IM is Better Than an Email

You might say I’m unprofessional for recommending instant messaging (IM) instead of professional emails. But if sending an IM can save you the headache of sending a long email, wouldn’t that be preferable?

What to do:

If someone reaches out to you asking for a little help, sometimes an IM would be more appropriate than a formal email. Google has this feature its email box.

13 Tips for Effective Email Management

Simple Tips to Managing Your Email Efficiently

5 Actions
13 Tips for Effective Email Management
Create Template Replies: If you usually send the same type of replies in almost every email, create a template for your replies, so you just need to copy-paste it and make minor adjustments.
13 Tips for Effective Email Management
Process Your Mail Once a Day: Set a specific time to look at your emails, and try not to make it the first task of the day.
13 Tips for Effective Email Management
 Structure Your Emails Into Categories:  Firstly, use a relevant naming system for what you’re doing. Secondly, use a hierarchy structure; first-level folders are for the big categories, and second-level folders are for sub-categories, and so on.
13 Tips for Effective Email Management
Prioritize 20% of Emails; Defer 80%: For the 20% of emails, give them a significant priority. Reply to them immediately (especially if they meet the 1-minute rule); if not, get to them in 1-3 days. For 80% of mail, make a decision whether to respond or get to them within the next couple of days.
13 Tips for Effective Email Management
Realize You Don’t Need to Reply to Every Email: Don’t stress too much about replying to every single mail. Reply if it helps, but if the costs of replying don’t outweigh the benefits, then maybe it’s not worth worrying about it. Just let it be, and things will sort themselves out through time. 

Final Words

Scrolling through email can consume a big chunk of your time daily. However, by trying the tips mentioned above, you can effectively manage your emails, save the unnecessary time you waste going through them, and invest that time in something more productive.

Featured photo credit: Sigmund via unsplash.com

Reference

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Celestine Chua

Celestine is the Founder of Personal Excellence where she shares her best advice on how to boost productivity and achieve excellence in life.

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