Chances are, you spend a lot of time in your email. According to research by McKinsey, email is a huge-time sink for most working professionals. In fact, Americans regularly check email throughout the day - on average, 28% of work time is spent on email. With so much time being spent on email, it’s important to be organized. Think about how much time is wasted on the average day by having an unorganized email strategy. Unfortunately, email doesn’t come with a manual for effective management. That’s why we’ve compiled some of the best research available on the topic. Here are some of the best tips out there for successful email management.
Just How Much Time Do We Spend in Email?
Americans in particular are addicted to email. As part of our “work hard, play hard” culture we develop the habit of being too available to our workplaces. Additionally, the current digital landscape allows us to be constantly connected and always “on”. Just how important is email in the average person’s life?
In the McKinsey study we mentioned above, they found that in addition to 28% of work time being spent on email, the following things are true:
- We check email an average of 11 times per hour.
- 84% of respondents keep email open in the background while working.
- 64% of people used notifications to learn about new messages.
- 70% of all received messages were opened within six seconds of receipt.
Why does this really matter?
Well, consider the fact that time is a finite resource - we only have so much of it. Any time that you spend managing email is time that cannot be spent on something else. Research has shown that the more time you spend on email, the lower your general performance. Furthermore, it makes people more susceptible to work stress and contributes to cognitive overload. There are several factors that contribute to these issues in particular, including:
- Lack of clarity in email messages, leading to more questions and seeking answers
- Tasks and deadlines associated with messages
- Poor email management strategies that lead to more time in email than necessary
- A loss of control that often comes with a full inbox or an inability to respond promptly
- Email tracking issues
- Having other important work interrupted by email
- Waiting for responses to emails that you’ve sent
Additionally, the “costs” of email often weigh heavier on the recipient than the sender. They are the ones who have to find time to read the email, process it, and accomplish or schedule any to-dos that the email presents. In other words, it’s a lot easier to simply send an email than it is to sift through and take action on your inbox. Any person who spends much time on email is likely already aware of this.
So what can be done? The truth is that only you can determine how you want to manage email. Do you want to check email each time you get a new notification? Do you want to check email only during scheduled hours? How quickly will you respond, and how will you organize email once you have one? One thing is true no matter what decisions you make: being intentional about email is sure to help. Deciding on a proactive approach and sticking to a strategy will help you make the most of your email and your time.
Related Post: How To Cope With Email Overload
11 Best Practices for Impactful Email Management
Including some structure and organization in your email life will bring several benefits. You’ll have more time for work that matters - and more time for yourself - and you’ll be more productive. So what can be done? Follow these seven tips for better email management.
Carve out “email time” in your calendar
Many people approach their email work with boundaries. Just like you may have time allocated for other things that are important, you might set aside time each day for email. Remember that emails can actually be very intrusive into our typical day, and it’s actually more productive to find time to deal with emails when you have the most energy. We suggest finding a fixed time each day to deal with email. Then, you would ideally avoid multitasking when you’re looking at email - the time is for reading and responding to messages only. Some people even have an auto-response template that lets senders know the times that they’ll be checking email, and to call if the matter is urgent. The takeaways here are the email can almost always wait - and if it can’t, a phone call is better.
Get rid of the junk
Start by committing to eliminating promotional sales emails and newsletters you never read. Unsubscribe from things you once found interesting but now never read. By removing unwanted messages, you can better prioritize the emails that you do want to pay attention to. This is also really helpful when it comes to eliminating spam and other emails that can contribute to data or privacy breaches. Take the time to dig through your email inbox and remove regularly received emails that don’t add value to your life or work.
Get organized with labels, folders, etc.
Being highly organized with your email is one way to save a lot of time. Though it can seem time-consuming, it’s important to spend time organizing from the get-go: creating a folder system, labels, color-coding, etc. The best way to categorize everything is going to depend on the individual. For example, a marketer may have different folders for each marketing channel like blogs, advertising, and events. Some people set up different folders for “inbound” and “outbound”. The most critical element is to have a method for prioritizing emails so that you can take action earlier on more urgent items and properly file ones you want to keep. We have a really helpful post on how to organize your email, which you can read here.
Related Post: How to Organize Your Email Accounts
Follow a “touch it once” principle
Experts agree that it’s usually best to make quick decisions when handling emails. The general idea is that revisiting an email several times is often a waste of time. Open an email, take the necessary action on it, and then move on to the next one. If you can’t take a certain action right then, then flag the email as one to follow up on and put it in a special folder of “to dos”. This sounds really simple, but is often easier said than done. However, if you are able to follow this rule, it will keep you from getting distracted. This can be a really powerful strategy for people who deal with large volumes of email each day.
Consider a “one-minute” rule
This is another principle that can be applied to help you save time and work more effectively. Essentially, it works like this: When you get a new email, determine if it will take longer than one minute to address. If it would take a minute or less to respond to or take action on, do it immediately. If it requires more time, then set it aside to follow up later. This way your email will clear out more quickly and won’t pile up. It’s also a good practice to get into in other areas of life: if something can be accomplished quickly, best to just get it done and over with right then.
Read top down and write bottom up
You might be confused at how this could be a time-saver, but too often, getting into an email back-and-forth makes it hard to get through your inbox. That’s why some experts suggest reading email threads in reverse chronological order and then responding to them in chronological order. That’s because some people respond to emails right away, which can kick off an email “tennis match” that ends up eating the time you’ve devoted to other things. By responding to emails in chronological order, it’s easier to stay on track and you’re less likely to get stuck in a particular correspondence.
Don’t be afraid to request removal from groups
You may have joined certain groups or been included as part of groups that no longer pertain to you. Do you ever get stuck on an email thread that you ultimately have nothing to do with? In any of these cases, it’s ok to simply ask to be removed. Group emails can end up taking a lot of time, so it’s important to concentrate your energy on ones that actually matter to you.
Set auto-filters for certain senders
A little bit of email automation can go a long way in making your life easier. Automated email responses can offer clear messages without you having to take up a ton of time. Creating filters can make sure your incoming messages are sorted, labeled, and marked for action according to your criteria. This is another way to ensure you never miss emails from your boss, or even bills or emails from your kids’ school. You can group emails according to things like project, individual name, specific keywords, or even subject lines or attachments. This is extremely helpful if you have particularly demanding clients or a workaholic boss, but can actually help with managing any emails better.
Separate email accounts when it makes sense
Many email platforms, including Gmail, let you have multiple accounts. This can be key if you are managing email for separate clients, or even if you just want to separate your personal and professional emails. If you feel that you spend a lot of time sorting emails into different categories, then it might make sense to simply create a different email instance that focuses on certain correspondence. Pro tip: You can download Shift and use it to streamline all of the desktop apps used by a certain account. For example, if you separate your work and personal email accounts, then you might want to also have things like Slack in your work instance. Then you’re set up for the day as soon as you log in to your computer!
Related Post: How to Manage Multiple Email Accounts
Consider the emails that you’re sending
Managing your inbox is as much about the emails that you send as it is about the ones you receive. The truth is that the volume of emails you send often dictates the volume of emails you’ll receive. It’s important to understand that some emails should be had in person or over the phone. Just like people don’t want to sit in meetings that should have been an email, people don’t want to respond to emails that could be a quick hallway conversation. Similarly, if you think an email will lead to a lot of back-and-forth, just pick up the phone. It won’t do you any good to send an email asking a question that will be responded to with an email asking for clarification, and so on.
Use a notification aggregator
A notification aggregator is a system that collects your notifications and displays them to you in a streamlined format, so that you are not at the mercy of several different platforms sending you push notifications and distracting you throughout the day. There are a few different options for notification aggregator phone apps - but fewer options for desktop usage. Though desktops tend to experience less notifications than mobile devices, users still receive a lot of them. Your best bet may be to dig into specific settings and make adjustments that will make you happier with your notification management.
Related Post: How to Combine All of Your Messaging Apps in One Place
Shift Can Help With Email Management
The tips we just mentioned are great, and can make a difference in getting more organized with email. However, they are really just addressing a symptom of a bigger issue. It would really be helpful if there was a better way altogether to streamline email messages, search through them and deal with them in the ways that are best for your working style. That’s where Shift comes in.
Related Post: How to Search Across Multiple Email Accounts
Shift offers notification management that can apply across all the apps you use every day, from Outlook to Facebook to Slack and beyond. With a couple of clicks, you can mute all notifications temporarily or control the sounds that play when a notification comes through. This means you won’t constantly be interrupted by new message notifications. The old principle “out of sight, out of mind” is often repeated for a reason: because not continuously getting reminders of email piling up will allow you to focus on the tasks at-hand.
Related Post: How to Get All of Your Notifications in One Place
Not only that, Shift brings together all of the notifications from any of your apps and email accounts and displays them in one place. You don’t have to look in multiple places anymore just to see what new alerts you have. Instead, you can simply check the number that appears in the little red bubble on the Shift icon in your taskbar, and there you go! This is truly the easiest way to avoid overload from email notifications. Users save a ton of time that previously was wasted by constantly checking their latest email notification and digging into their inboxes. Not only that, you can even turn off notifications or remove the notification badge for particular apps within Shift if you don’t want to be alerted to things within that particular platform. This is particularly helpful for drawing boundaries around your email work and only checking email on a proactive - rather than reactive - basis.
Furthermore, a platform like Shift will make sure you have all your apps in one place. As you go through the process of linking your favorite tools, you’ll see software and apps that you don’t use anymore. As you deactivate and delete those tools, you’ll lose any notifications that went with those services. It’s not only streamlining your entire desktop, but you’re deleting time-sinks in the process.
How Else Can Shift Help With Productivity?
Shift is a powerful tool for people who are trying to work more productively in their desktop environment. Anyone who uses online platforms will find Shift to be a valuable resource. With Shift, you can organize and manage the following:
- Mail - Connect all of your Gmail, Outlook, and Office 365 accounts and manage everything from one centralized workstation.
- Apps - WhatsApp, Slack, Messenger—we have everything you need to get it done. Browse our Apps Directory, connect yours, and switch between them easily.
- Search - Save time and find exactly what you're looking for across any of your Mail, Calendar, and Drive accounts.
- Chrome extensions - Enjoy access to Boomerang, Grammarly, LastPass, and many of your other favorite Chrome Extensions.
- Focused web tabs - Access the web from inside Shift. Manage your tabs and organize them by account for a better browsing experience.
- Workspaces - Create a Workspace with the exact apps, tabs, and bookmarks you need, then share it with your team to get the job done.
- Account management - Toggle between your most-used accounts, check notifications and streamline your workflow.