A study says that emails are the second most time consuming task that corporates do. They spend more than 25% of their work day replying to/browsing through/writing emails. That's an alarming portion of your day and such a waste of time"! There is this constant itch to keep checking emails. You know, the world won't fall apart if there is a slight delay at your end. It is okay to not be on the high alert when it comes to your inbox.
The catch here is, I have suffered from this too. After a alarming and disarming realization of work beyond my inbox, I followed the below to help me waste less time. Sharing them with you, in case any of them helps you increase your productivity and reduce your wastage:
1. Sporadic checking
It is the simplest one. You need to check your inbox only on certain fixed times, and not every time it beeps! Checking emails again and again breaks work-flow and is a serious impediment to productivity.
You can check in the morning, right before you start your day so that you get to all the important ones that got accumulated overnight. Then do super amount of work for the next 2-2.5hrs. Then again check your inbox before lunch and so on. Basically – in gaps.
But this is the most common one and the most unfollowed one because we all have that itch and a feeling that the world will stop if we don't respond to email NOW. It is a much more addicting habit to just keeping checking the notification bar of your phone. I actually want to call it an OCD!
One way to combat this is TO KEEP YOUR EMAIL NOTIFICATIONS OFF. You can survive this apocalypse. Don't worry. Initially, you will still keep checking your phone from time to time. But slowly, as it stops beeping constantly, the habit will also go away.
Warning – This may however, not work, if you use only this method to manage. You will need to club it with some points mentioned below as well.
2. A quick glance!
What if your emails are your bread & butter? You probably cannot ignore an email for 2hrs then. For you – I have another idea. Just quickly scan through the email as you receive it in your inbox. If it takes 2 minutes to reply, do that then and there. You have already read the mail; might as well reply right away! But if it takes more than a while (emails where you need to think and do homework before replying), mark it unread and get back to it later. Unless it is a high emergency email.
Although, I think replying to an email after 2 hours is absolutely ok. If you reply when you are in the middle of something, there is also a chance that you may screw up both – the work and the mail. Don't become a slave of the feeling that absolutely have to reply now. Often, simply acknowledging that you have received the email and you are working on it is also good email etiquette + smart email management "“ as it gives the other person conviction that you do respond in time; and you can take it up later when you can reply peacefully!
Remember, responding to emails timely is not same as replying to them immediately. Besides, if you reply immediately, people will expect you to reply immediately always – which is kind of an impossible goal to achieve. Don't set your bar that high 😉
3. Use the killer email options
I am sure you know labels. Gmail has some wonderful options to sort your emails. Create labels. That's a feature I want you to abuse. You can also create new tabs (along the social and promotions tab). Name them as – imp, not so imp, awaiting. Choose whatever nomenclature you want. All you have to do is drag and drop your emails to those particular tabs. And It becomes your to-do list.
You can also use labels for project wise filing. That way, you won't even need to search for a particular email in all of your inbox. You can search it under that label only.
But, for technology's sake, do not keep hitting the search bar for every little crisis. Organize your inbox. It will really help you wade through the clutter!
4. Be a miser.
Most of us manage 3-4 email accounts together. Don't let yourself to believe that all accounts have to be on your very super smartmobile phone. I am sure, if you carefully think, some of them can be unsynced? Give it a thought. Do you really need that funny yahoo account you made thousands of years ago on your push mail system?
If you can choose, I am really proud of you. But if you can't "“ here's an idea: Put all your emails – all gmail, yahoo, Hotmail etc. in a folder (android has that option where you can create folders and put apps inside them). That way, you won't get to see those nagging, unopened email signs on your screen every time you pick up your phone. You can simply open the folder when you have time and just scroll through.
With the visual and auditory notifications off, emails will soon nag you less and less.
5. How about fewer emails altogether!
Within your own office, ask your team to send you fewer mails. If it's a paragraph or two, ask them to email. If it more than that, they either use IM (instant messaging), or make a call or simply drag their butts to your cubicle / office.
We can all use a little more human interaction anyway
The fewer mails you get, the lesser the processing that you have to do. You cannot control the external inflow. But make sure you do take charge of the internal inflow!
And in return for good behaviour, you can also write shorter and fewer emails. Good Karma will come back to you
6. The worst mistake: Early morning replies
Do not reply to your emails as soon as you wake up. That's the most awful way to ruin your mornings. It is a time when you are fresh, your senses are heightened and you are at your peak. Use this beautiful time for your creative work. If you have to write a column / blog post / book / report or think of some strategies – do that in those wee hours of the day. If nothing, read for an hour. Exercise. Meditate. But not the task of replying to emails for God's sake!
Don't use your mornings for your small to-dos. They will exhaust you and you won't get any time for the important ones of the day as you will soon find that the trivialities will take away all your shiny & bubbly morning energy.
7. Keep the cleaning drive on
You can do this most mundane task while you are traveling or doing nothing productive.
Keep deleting spam and less important emails like promotional mails. A less cluttered inbox will always make you feel better. Unsubscribe from emails that you never read, no matter how awesome you think they are. Because had they been so awesome, you would have read them.
That nagging number of 1000 unread emails will always make you want to scroll down and click and open those emails just so that number goes down. Nip the problem right when it's a bud!
So this is how I try to keep my inbox in a little control. It takes a little of getting used to. But once you are there, it will be worth the while. After all, everyone needs to save those precious productive moments. Or at least, the ones who care about their goals and know the value of their time "“ definitely do! Baby steps count. Begin with some. You'll feel light.