Managing email and the “infamous” Inbox Zero is creating quite a buzz these days. Many of us have long entrenched email habits that prevent us from reaching max email efficiency. Instead of processing and getting rid of emails, we tend to hoard them like they are little gold nuggets covered in mud, waiting to be refined. And, of course, there is a slew of other habits that add to the email pile.
Here are my 14 cents. Let me know if I missed any in the comments section.
1. Email Window Shopping
How many times have you opened your inbox, only to scroll quickly through the list? This is a major waste of time. If you open your email, do something! Delete, archive, create tasks, reminders, etc. Just opening and closing your email list is a sure way to never achieving Inbox Zero.
2. Mark Unread
What’s this all about? This is one of my favorites and it relates directly to the above mentioned point. If you open and read an email–make a decision. If you need to do something about it and don’t have time now, create a task with a clear next step. There is no reason to keep this email in your list; archive it and manage your task list!
3. No Rhythm
The tempo in which you process your emails has a lot to do with the routines you create. If you don’t set up specific times to process your inbox, you’re allowing fate and impulse to decide for you when it’s going to happen. Get in the habit of processing email at certain times, and you’ll end up achieving inbox zero multiple times during the day. Bonus tip: by doing the above, you can also ensure you are alert and have enough energy to process email.
4. Setting Up for Failure
Creating powerful habits helps us to make sure things get done. A powerful habit is a habit that you miss doing; i.e. if I missed it, I feel compelled to do what I can to correct that mistake. Many of us set a goal to process as many emails as we can; so in essence we are setting ourselves up for failure. If you change that goal to achieving Inbox Zero twice per day, you’ll get addicted to success.
5. Writing long emails
Another email habit is writing long emails. People don’t read emails, they browse through them. Do you really think that someone who gets on average 114 emails per day will read a long email?
Arrange all the emails you’re sending in bullets and make sure that you never send our long emails. Your prize? You receive, in kind, shorter emails which will results in less time reading aimlessly.
6. Emotional Emails
Another thing relating to the point above: avoid expressing emotions in emails! It creates long emails that lead to long replies and a lot of unnecessary correspondence that leads nowhere. Emails are not a great medium to express emotions; a lot gets lost in the text, and often, the other party takes it out of context leading to, sometimes, disastrous results.
7. Email is not the only option
Sometimes you need to talk face to face or use something called a telephone! Particularly relating to the above point, if there is an emotional point to convey, a phone call or meeting is best option for this. Prior to writing an email, spend a second or two to consider if it will be more effective to communicate another way.
If you reply to an email that had more than 3 back and forwards, stop! Something is not working. It’s time to consider a call or face to face meeting.
9. Reply All
Target only specific people. Don’t CC people who are not relevant to an email just to “keep them in the loop,” unless of course you’re interested in creating more emails. Many times, people who are cc’d on email feel obligated to “contribute” which leads to more emails, delays, and confusion. Emails, often, are tasks. Tasks should be given to individuals who are accountable to get them done. Keeping people in the loop should be done via periodic summary emails or meetings.
When writing an email, take your time, and write clearly. If you email is not clear, guess what? You’ll be getting at least one email from each recipient asking for clarifications. Take time to draft, relax, and proofread an email. Personally, I often draft my emails, and only send them out an hour later. I find that when I space out the review, I better identify how to improve my response. Indeed this takes discipline, but it will help minimize clarification emails from your recipients and you’ll be much more appreciated by your peers (and boss).
11. Working without structure
When processing emails, process with a set structure. Either answers emails from newest to oldest or oldest to newest. Don’t hop between emails, because in doing so, you are violating a previous rule–don’t read, skip, mark unread. I like to answer the newest emails first. It helps me give fast replies to returning emails and impress people who sent me just a few minutes ago an mail ;-).
12. Canned responses
How often do you find yourself re-writing similar emails? When you process your emails, you tend to bump into emails that you know you’ve written before. Instead of writing emails again and again, when you identify a certain email pattern, just copy/paste them into an email answers database and process those pesky ‘been there done that emails’ faster.
I’m sure that overtime, you subscribed probably to at least 50 sites you’re not following anymore. Services like Unroll.me can help you unsubscribe quickly from services that clog your inbox with unnecessary newsletters. When you see spam, spend the few seconds to unsubscribe; even though it can be painful, doing so will prevent you from seeing hundreds of emails over the course of the next year.
14 Send less emails!
Duh, if you want to receive fewer emails, send less email. Until next time! :)