Many of us want to be productive, but find ourselves constantly distracted by the very computer we are trying to use to be productive. Email, social media, funny videos (so cute), games, and on it goes. If we can’t completely cut out those distractions we can at least manage them so that we can get our work done and play words with friends. Here are my top tips for managing email – use one or all depending on your needs.
1. Set times when you will check email
This is my biggest battle, but admit most emails we receive can wait for the next check-in time. If something is really urgent the person can always pick up the phone and call you. All those quick checks add up over the day and do nothing but sidetrack you from whatever you need to get done. Each time you switch gears you also lose the time it takes to get back into whatever you were working on. Most of us could get away with 2-4 check in times per day.
2. Disable notifications from social media sites
Rather than have every reply or notice of a new follower on Facebook and twitter come through to your email account throughout the day check on them in bulk as well.
3. Try sending shorter messages
Try to limit your email messages to what is essential. There are many people successfully following a rule of 5 sentences or fewer in email messages. If you write many emails in a day this can save you a lot of time. As Guy Kawasaki says in the post linked above “All you should do is explain who you are, what you want, why you should get it, and when you need it by.”
4. Set up filters
Most email systems have the ability to set up filters or rules for certain messages to bypass your inbox. Set some up for newsletters you get (but don’t need to read right now), emails for ongoing projects, the joke emails you get from your sister, or school notices etc.
5. Set up “canned responses”
You can also create canned responses (gmail) or their equivalent in other programs. If you get a lot of requests for your blog or business that get the same reply (ie – no I am not interested in link swapping, or sorry I don’t run giveaways for my products) you can draft the response once and save it to use each time you get one of those requests. You could also create a template response or similar for anything you write regularly (and just need to tweak for different people you approach) and simply save it in drafts to copy and paste.
6. Use the unsubscribe button
Sometimes we realize we don’t get anything from the newsletters we signed up for and yet we keep deleting them. This means you are continuing to manage things you don’t need. As they come in stop and think if you can remember the last time you got anything useful out of this person’s newsletter. If you can’t recall, consider hitting unsubscribe and trust the information you need will be there when you go looking in the future.
7. Set up separate email addresses for different areas of your life
If you are a high volume email user and don’t want to wade through dozens (or worse) of emails to find what is important each day consider setting up different accounts for things like those newsletters you sign up for, your personal stuff, work / business, etc so when you sign into the work email it is always going to contain solely work related emails (hopefully).
8. Create folders to organise what you need to keep
Don’t be one of those people with hundreds (or worse) of emails in your inbox dating back to who knows when. Your inbox is not a storage space, but rather a processing point. Create folders and organise what actually needs to be kept. Most of your emails will be of the “reply and delete” variety. For information you need to keep for future reference create folders similar to ones you might put in a filing cabinet. If you have active projects you access a lot you can make those folders appear at the top of the list by preceding the label with a symbol (@book project or @summer vacation plans for example). If you want a super simple system for non active info you can create a single “archive” folder and just use the search function to find what you need later.
9. Create folders for non-archived emails
Many people aim to maintain inbox zero and if you are working to keep your inbox empty you can set up folders to process your emails at each session. The point is to at least decide what needs to happen next. If you quickly reply to a message but will need to work on it when you hear back again you send it to “waiting for replies” (or some such folder). If you batch certain tasks you can create a holding folder for those emails (“bills to be paid” holds invoices as they come in knowing you will pay them on Friday). If you receive emails with information that you don’t necessarily need to comment on you can set up a “to read” folder and so on.
10. Set a limit for your inbox.
This is the middle ground between maintain the perfect empty inbox every day and the masses of email clogging your box. Just as you need to regularly declutter your home or set a limit for how many you will own of something you need to stay on top of your inbox. When my email gets away from me in a busy week I might let it get to 2 pages of messages, but never let it go further or soon it will be chaos (and that is when I accidentally miss a message I swear I replied to). Decide what your limit is and stop and declutter when you reach it.
Do you have any email tips to add that have worked for you?
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