There is no doubt. Email is a part of everyone’s everyday life and it’s not going anywhere. It takes up a significant part of our time, our communication and is integral to our work life, now more than ever.
If there ever was a potential for email to go away, stay at home orders and physical distancing has squashed those concerns.
Email is used for personal and professional communication, sharing of ideas and events and planning future get togethers and events.
But like anything that has become all but essential to daily life, it is not without its drawbacks. Not the least of which is the amount of time and attention it demands from us on a daily basis.
I admit, I have a love/hate relationship with email. Sometimes I can’t wait to check it, others I would rather watch paint dry. Maybe you relate.
Regardless of whether I am expecting great news or I am irritated by the intrusion of email, I have spent a lot of time researching email management habits of the most successful people and have adopted those that made sense for me.
And I must say. I have tamed the email monster!
It’s true. Email is an amazing tool in my life that almost never overwhelms me anymore. I don’t open my inbox with nervousness or trepidation. It’s simply a tool that helps me to get things done and stay connected to those that are important to me.
80% of business professionals believe email marketing increases customer retention.
Here are my Essential Email Habits for Success
Organize email by importance
I have my inbox set to sort my email by importance so I can see my key emails first. That helps me to do a quick sort if I’m expecting someone important without going down the rabbit hole of reading an email that has a great subject line but doesn’t move me forward. I get an extraordinary number of emails on a daily basis so having my inbox do the sorting for me has been a game changer.
If I open it I need to do something with it. If there’s an attachment I immediately file it. If there’s a meeting I immediately calendar it. If there’s a request I immediately answer if I can. If it requires a bit more work from me I immediately add it to my Asana list. Whatever it is I need to do, I do it right then. Then I archive it. Done!
Use Shortcuts and Add Ons
I use Gmail to process all of my emails. I really love their interface and tools, and I can collect and send email from any address. By learning and using keyboard shortcuts and add ons I can be as efficient as possible when I’m in my inbox. I have my Google Drive connected, Asana, Calendar...everything is just a click away and keeps things quick, clean and easy!
Keep Emails Short & Use Smiley Faces
I try to keep replies to emails short and sweet. It makes sure that I say what needs to be said without wasting both of our time. Because there is no emotion in email, and short emails can seem, well, short I also use smiley faces so the person I’m sending to knows that it’s the email that’s short, not me. I tend to be very matter of fact, so it also helps to soften my regular writing.
I use Asana to keep track of all my client projects and my own projects, both personal and business, and have the Asana/Gmail add on enabled, and it’s amazing! I can just click the Asana icon when I’m in an email and create a new task, add it to a project and choose a deadline. Easy peasy and things don’t fall through the cracks.
I love Gmail labels. And I really love them! They allow me to flag things for follow up, file them for my swipe file, or keep them sorted based on who they’re from. I have also set up automations that will label incoming emails and route them to the right folder before I’ve even seen them. Brilliant, seriously!
Keep Only Unread Emails in Their Inbox
This one can be a bit scary. If you set up your inbox to only show you unread emails you will force yourself to do something with emails as they come in. Once you know that if you do nothing it will disappear and only your memory will determine if you remember to look at it later you will find you have a more pressing desire to act on it the first time you see it.
Dedicated Email Processing Times
I set aside times each day that I will go through my email, and I don’t even look at my email until after I’ve had my breakfast and strategized how I want my day to go. Once I’ve reviewed my schedule and priorities for the day I will dive into my email. This makes sure I don’t get into reactionary mode and commit to something that will put me behind on other client or personal deadlines.
If I’m being totally candid, I hit this intermittently. When I first started I was very neurotic about it. Every day, throughout the day, I would go through my inbox to get it down to zero. Every. Single. Day. And that got tiring and invasive. What I have settled on is getting it to Inbox Zero at least once a day, Monday through Friday. If I can do it at the end of the day, that’s great! If I’m in meetings or working toward a deadline at the end of the day I may only zero out midday, and that’s ok now. The key, for me, is achieving it at least once daily. The time of day matters much less than the goal of doing it daily.
There you have it. My 8 key habits to stay on top of my email and remain in control of my inbox. I’m sure there are others out there, and if you see one that resonates, by all means, give it a try! These are the habits that I have found work best for me and my daily workflow.
Oh, one other important thing I do. I have turned off notifications on my phone for new emails. This may very well be the single best thing I’ve done!
Notifications, which can be helpful, are by their very nature intrusive. And intrusive emails foster a reactionary relationship with your inbox. Which is never good. If I’m not by my computer I will still check my email on my phone or iPad. But I will do it on my schedule. When I am ready to check it and really pay attention to what comes in.
This has been a total and complete game changer for me. I encourage you to try it for a week and see what you think.
Ok, pick a couple of these and try them for a week or so. See what you think. If something is hard but seems to be working, try it for a second week. If it really doesn’t fit your workflow, scrap it and move on.
All of these, and more, can be helpful for taming your inbox. But only if you use them every day. And only if they fit with your personal workflow. If it’s a challenge, it won’t work in the long run.