It’s time to get serious about your email habits. Millions of people waste millions of hours because they won’t discipline themselves about how they process the tons of email they receive every day. Studies show we spend almost 1/3 of our day dealing with email, so here’s a list of your biggest email productivity killers – the habits that literally waste hours of your day. Fix these problems and you’ll discover free time you never even knew you had:
1) Not dealing with it completely. Stop touching an email multiple times. Read it, act on it, and process it. I know people who read the same email five, six, or seven times before they finally do something with it. If it can be done in less than a minute or two, then deal with it now. If it needs to be deferred, then put it into a follow up folder. If you don’t need to act on it at all, then put it in the archive or delete it. Done.
2) Over-communicating. This is a HUGE problem for some people. First, if you don’t have to respond, then don’t. Second, if you receive a group email then DON’T HIT REPLY ALL. Rarely do you need to reply to everyone, so stop filling our inboxes with more mail! Third, if someone else on a group email responds satisfactorily, then you don’t need to. Don’t let the “I need to respond so they’ll know I’m important” urge win. Just process it and move on. Which brings me to…
3) Writing long emails. What a waste of time! Short, direct, and sweet. That’s what people want. Stop writing a book and just tell me what you need! Most of the time, if you send me an email longer than a couple of paragraphs, I’ll delete it unread. Sorry, but true. Most people won’t admit it, but they do the same thing. Try the 3 sentence method.
4) Responding to Everyone. In your career, you’ll receive plenty of unrequested emails. There’s no rule that you have to respond to everybody and no shame in it. Guess what? If I send an email to Steven Spielberg, he’s not going to respond. You don’t have to either. Responding to everyone simply takes away precious time that you could be spending on your priorities. It’s not being rude if an email arrives unsolicited, and you think twice about responding – or don’t respond at all.
5) Not using a spam filter. HUGE waste of time. If you’re not on a system like Gmail, then get a spam filter. Let someone else pick through all the junk so you don’t have to. If you’re deleting more than 2 or 3 spam messages a day, you have the wrong filter company or software. Find something better.
6) Using a Long Folder System. Email “search” has gotten pretty sophisticated. As a result, you don’t need 68 folders and sub-folders for all the clients, projects, family members, or hobbies in your life. If you’re still using the old folder system, you’re wasting enormous time moving every email into the right folder – and then trying to find it when you need it. Here’s my folder system:
1. Inbox – Whatever comes in to be processed.
2. Follow Up – Things I can’t deal with now but eventually need a response.
3. Read Later – Things that aren’t critical or need a response, but I’d like to read at my leisure.
4. Travel Info – I travel a lot, so this is where I put my itineraries, boarding passes, hotel reservations, rental car info, etc.
5. Reference – App stuff – serial numbers, product keys, etc.
6. Research – Things I need when working on a new book or project.
7. Archive – Everything else.
That’s it. Everything else, I just search for, and guess what? I always find it. Here’s the IBM research that proves folders don’t work. In fact, I could probably delete a couple more folders, now that I think of it.
And by the way – I’m not a fanatic about the “Inbox Zero” concept, largely because after using these methods, I only have a handful of emails in my inbox at the end of the day. (So much less stress!)
You don’t have to use my method, but use some method. Stop the email rat race and simplify your life. You’re wasting hours each day because you don’t – or won’t – take the time to streamline how you triage your email. When you do, you’ll be more productive, and much happier.
Give it a try. You’ll thank me later!