Email, if not used properly can seriously derail productivity. Naturally, we make a big deal out of managing it. Let’s not make the mistake of following complex systems, when all we really need to do is change a few behaviors and complement these with some tried and tested techniques.
1. Unsubscribe from any lists that aren’t providing you with valuable information. Notifications from group newsletters tend to fill up your inbox fast. If you are not getting what you had signed up for from the site or company anymore, unsubscribe from the list.
Alternatively, you can filter. The idea is to take the sea of email coming in and reroute it into several smaller, more manageable streams. This way, only the most important ones get into your inbox. You can browse the folder where these messages to go at your own convenience.
2. Remove yourself from any personal and internal company and business threads. This may not apply to everyone; if it does, take note of this and take action.
3. Use the one-click rule. The one-click rule has long been a staple in email management. It basically suggests that as soon as you click the email open, either reply, forward, delete or archive it immediately. Opening an email message, then closing it and reading another, accomplishes nothing.
4. Apply the 3-sentence rule. Most emails, such as those arranging a time and place to meet, hardly need more than a sentence or two. Therefore, when you reply to an email, respond with 3 sentences or less. If you need to write more than 3 sentences, pick up the phone! If you’re more of the talker and not the writer, this will be easy for you.
5. Be concise. According to a study made by New York City-based management-consulting firm McKinsey and Company, the average worker spends 28 percent of their day reading and answering emails. Eliminating extra information from emails can help you reclaim some of this time and improve your chances of getting a reply.
However, if important issues are being discussed and need documentation, a brief email will obviously not be enough. You should still make sure that an email is no longer than it needs to be.
6. Come up with an easy follow-up system. Try yourself on the emails you want to remember to follow up with. Let’s say I email someone requesting materials for an event. Since I BCCed myself, I can then easily move or tag it to a folder labeled “follow up” when it comes back to my inbox. I generally check this folder every three to five days to stay on top of messages for which I expect a reply.
7. Make your subject line actionable.
Have you ever gotten an email from someone with the subject line: “Important”?
If it’s long, you have to read through the whole thing, looking carefully for the point of the letter. This is a ridiculous waste of people’s time. Let your recipients know what you need them to do when they see the email show up in their inbox so they can accomplish the task more quickly. Do this by writing the subject of your email last, starting out with a verb that describes what needs to be done and a noun encapsulating what the email message is about. For instance, an email reminding your team members to bring laptops for your meeting tomorrow will be more effective when the email subject lines says “Please bring your laptop for tomorrow’s meeting” than “Meeting tomorrow morning, February 29”
8. Do not use your Inbox as your to-do list. Whatever you have to do, get your to-do related emails out of your Inbox and get it down to zero. Use, instead, any free app available for download, or some good old-fashioned organizer and create your to-do list there.
9. Use the two folder system. Go really minimal and use just two folders: Archive for anything you want to keep, and Trash for anything you don’t need.