12 Email Productivity Tips

Austin L. Church
June 5, 2016
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Email occupies a necessary niche in the business ecosystem, but I still hate it. Deleting emails gives me the same grim pleasure as killing mosquitoes. These email productivity tips give me a huge Hulk hand to smash more mosquitoes at once.I bequeath them to you. I hope you’ll use them to grind down your inbox as efficiently as possible and spend more time on fun projects and business development.

12 Email Productivity Tips

1. Delete as many emails as possible, as quickly as possible.

Your first priority when you open Pandora’s (in)Box is to eliminate noise:

  • Promotions for your favorite retailer;
  • New RSS-powered blog posts from that snarky fashion blogger you liked last year;
  • Product notifications from big brands like Apple.

Yes, you love sushi. No, you don't need to consider buying a 50% off Groupon right now.Delete. Delete. Delete. If you really want to spend less time on email, wear out that trashcan icon.Productivity is all about creating, not consuming. Create the space to create.

email productivity tips

Photo Credit: William Iven via Unsplash

2. Respond in two sentences or less.

Practice the discipline of short responses. Just because a friend waxed philosophical for seven paragraphs about UI/UX designers also doing front-end work doesn't mean you have to answer loquacity with verbosity. (See what I did there?)In response to 90% of your emails, two sentences will suffice. You may need to spend more time at first crafting concise responses, but you’ll quickly begin shaving your HOURS each week. Seriously.Fact: A lot of people don't read past the second sentence anyway. Don’t waste time writing emails people don’t read.

3. Star important emails and respond to them all at one time.

Some emails do require thoughtful responses to multiple questions. They require a decision to be made or some other action on your part. Save those for last. Delete everything you can, and then fire off concise responses to the majority of those that are left. Finally, slow down, comprehend the requirements of a longer email, identify any to-do items, and add those to your list.You have now reached the Upper Echelon of Email Emancipation.

4. Use a more time-effective form of communication.

While you're parsing emails, you may come across a meaty one that demands a lengthy reply. Pick up the blankety-blank phone. One phone call saves you a ton of writing time.That’s right—your phone. Sometimes older modes of communication are more time-efficient. You could spend twenty minutes drafting and editing the email or two minutes talking on the phone.So stop. Consider. What’s the fastest way to address the situation?If you still deem email the most effective mode of communication, then give that email a star, and return to it later, as outlined above.

5. Make ample use of the Archive button.

Once you answer important emails and are waiting for a response, then what? Archive that sucker. If needed, you can always add a “Follow up with so-and-so” to your to-do list for the following day or use a plug-in like Boomerang to send the email back to your inbox on the appropriate date. You can also use Yesware to track whether the email got opened.In the meantime, archive with glee. Answered emails left in your inbox are the digital equivalent of cholesterol. They clog up everything. It’s discouraging to spend all morning answering emails and still have a full inbox. Liberal use of the Archive button has the added benefit of making your progress visible.Your inbox will be a much more accurate representation of what you still need to do, and you’ll see it shrink as you play Whac-A-Mole.

6. Aggressively unsubscribe.

You don't remember opting into marketing promos for the software product that you bought last year. You always delete them immediately. Forget that. Unsubscribe.Put a match to all that leaf litter on the forest floor. Certain evergreens, such as jack pines, can only germinate in the presence of intense heat. I'm not sure what that has to do with email, but I think you get the point.

7. Create filters.

If you can't unsubscribe without hurting someone's feelings, use a filter to send that stinker straight to the trash.The leader of your now-defunct knitting club is currently making sock puppets? Such special news and achievements deserve special filters. Your acquaintance will be none the wiser, and your inbox can breathe a sigh of relief.

8. Group-related replies and tasks.

If you have multiple emails from the same client, answer them all at once. Don't hop amongst different projects and clients. Pick one client and answer all those emails at once.And if you charge hourly for project management and admin, which I do, start the timer. You'll see your profitability go up by as much as 15-20% if you start charging proactively for managing all those communications.You can boost your efficiency by focusing on one client or project at a time. And you'll end up spending less time on each email because a client’s needs or goals will be fresh on your mind.

9. Write clear subject lines.

Do you need someone to review something before you can proceed? Make that clear in the subject line: "NEEDED: Please review this demo today.”The recipient also has dozens of emails to parse, so by communicating a sense of urgency, you will likely get answers faster, better manage your workflow, and meet deadlines.Also, bury the purpose of the email at the end of the email and force the recipient to hunt for it. Instead, describe what you'd like to see happen in the first paragraph and mention the relevant context or backstory that you have outlined below.

10. Format your emails.

Strategic use of bold, italics, and underlining will help you get the answers you need to keep projects moving forward and to keep clients happy.If you need other people to make decisions, say as much and underline it: "Please reply with 'Yes' or 'No' by 5pm today."

11. Ignore emails.

You don’t have to respond to every single email you receive. Just because people can find your address and send you an email doesn’t mean that they are entitled to a response.You can blithely ignore LOTS of cold sales emails, requests for this or that, and monstrosities where the sender cc’ed a dozen people. Don’t allow someone else’s lazy request or inefficiency to create a time suck for you.

12. Treat answering email as a task.

Add “Answer emails” to your to-do list, and do this task at an appointed time:

  • Answer email twice a day at 11 am and 4 pm.
  • Close your email when you're not actively answering emails.
  • Turn off your desktop and mobile notifications.
  • Close the browser window.
  • Quit the Mail application.
  • Turn your phone over so that you can't see the screen.

Use these email productivity tips to turn your inbox into a productivity and time management tool.Your goal should always be to spend less time answering emails so that you can get the real work done.Did you find value in this blog post? Please sign up for my weekly newsletter. I’ll send helpful freelancing tips your way.