Site icon Dan Silvestre

23 Best Email Productivity Tips That Will Boost Your Game Right Now

email productivity

In the Knowledge Economy, mastering email productivity is a key skill for any worker.

A recent study reported that we spend more than 5 hours per day on email. And the number of hours spent on email will likely keep rising.

So we must learn how to be more productive on email to get things done faster. It’s about working smarter, not harder.

Email has transitioned from an asynchronous form of communication to an “always-on” technology.

And that’s why you need a plan of attack when it comes to email. How can you level up your email productivity? Process email faster to free up up time to focus on work and projects outside your inbox.

Here’s the truth:

Spending the day reading and replying to emails feels like work.

But email is a means to an end. It’s a tool to complete projects, solve bottlenecks, set meetings. It’s not the end itself. There’s a difference.

Here’s how to be more productive on email…

Email Productivity: Mindfulness and Process

To be more productive using email, you’ll need to master 2 pieces of the puzzle:

  1. Create a mindful routine that fits you and your needs
  2. Develop a system to process your inbox

In the first part, you’re redesigning your relationship with email.

Let’s be honest:

How you’ve been dealing with email so far isn’t working for you. How do I know? You’re reading this. And that means you’re ready to change.

The second part is about creating a better email experience altogether. This means developing a system to process your inbox and stepping up your email writing game.

Below you’ll find 23 email tips that will turn you from an email slave to an email productivity superstar.

Email Mindfulness: Redesign Your Relationship With Email

With hundreds of new emails per day, you need to protect yourself from overwhelm.

A few simple rules can go a long way to being more mindful when dealing with email.

1. Work Comes Before Email

Resist the urge to check email when you arrive at the office.

Here’s a reality check:

Email is where other people’s priorities live.

It’s someone else’s to-do list.

Instead, work on your most important task. Don’t use email as an excuse to procrastinate on what you’re supposed to do.

Opening emails before a block of deep work can take away your focus and motivation. You start stressing out and can’t get actual work done.

The first hours in the morning are usually the most productive. You’re full of energy, focused, and motivated. 

Use them to produce real work.

Don’t waste your golden hours on unimportant emails.

2. Only Check Email 2x Per Day

A great email productivity tip is to reduce checking email to 2-3 times per day. 

Schedule specific times in your calendar to process email. Treat checking emails as you would any other tasks: a to-do.

What’s the optimal time for your blocks?

Late morning works well. You have already completed some important tasks and are ready to help other people.

Reserve the other block for the end of the day/late evening. This will ensure nothing falls through the cracks before leaving the office.

Have an end time for each email block. One Pomodoro cycle (25 minutes) per session is more than enough to process email.

You’re not allowed to check email after that (don’t worry, they’ll still be on your inbox tomorrow).

3. No Email First Thing in the Morning

Instead, spend the first hour of the day on your morning routine.

When it comes to email, ignorance is bliss. If you don’t know what’s going on, it can’t hurt you.

You can’t miss what you don’t know.

4. Don’t Check Email During the Night

Checking email in the middle of the night will harm you.

First, the light will disrupt your sleeping cycle. And you might find an email that looks scary or urgent and then have a hard time trying to sleep again.

This is unnecessary and preventable.

Set this rule and you won’t have this problem again.

5. Turn Off Email Notifications

When you get an email notification, you’re forced to stop what you were doing. And each interruption hurts your productivity.

Why?

Because it takes around 23 minutes to refocus after an interruption (study).

Let me ask you this:

Do you open your emails every time you get a notification? Or do you ignore most of them?

If you’re not going to check email right away, why do you need the dings? Disable your notifications.

Don’t convince yourself that notifications allow you to keep track of things. Each one disrupts your flow (even when you don’t act on them).

Flow is a state of deep immersion in a task (known as “being in the zone”). A study showed that people who are in flow are five times more productive.

But flow is a hard state to reach. We have developed an almost Pavlovian response to notifications. And this is making us hyper-responsive to them.

Even if a single task switch doesn’t waste a lot of your time, there’s a compounding effect. Task-switching in your day can lead to as much as a 40% loss on your productivity (study).

6. Make Exceptions for Special People

Here’s the only exception to the previous email productivity rule:

Not all emails are the same. If you know that not replying to someone will hurt you or your work, you should do it.

So keep notifications for your VIPs.

Your boss, family or important clients might need fast responses.

7. Close Email After Each Session

Keeping the email client open in the background can distract you.

Perhaps you think it doesn’t affect your work. But your brain knows it’s there and spends energy monitoring it.

Make your email less available.

Close the tab, disable notifications, or even delete the app on your phone.

8. Set Expectations With an Autoresponder

Long-term sustainable email productivity is about selective ignorance.

Let people know you’re checking emails less often to be more productive.

Train other people to respect your productivity. You do this by setting an autoresponder indicating how often you respond to email.

Here’s an example from “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss:

“Due to high workload, I am currently checking and responding to email twice daily at 12: 00 P.M. ET [or your time zone] and 4: 00 P.M. ET.

If you require urgent assistance (please ensure it is urgent) that cannot wait until either 12: 00 P.M. or 4: 00 P.M., please contact me via phone at 555-555-5555.

Thank you for understanding this move to more efficiency and effectiveness. It helps me accomplish more to serve you better.”

Here’s another example you can copy:

“Thank you for your email! Due to my current workload, I am only checking email at 11 am and 4 pm. If you need anything immediately please call me on my cell so that I can address this important matter with you. Thank you and have a great day!”

9. Say No (And Don’t Feel Guilty About It)

It’s possible to decline a request politely and move on without feeling guilty. When someone asks something from you, it can be hard to remember this option. 

Saying no is its own skill. We start with limited experience but can get better at it over time.

Here are 4 effective ways to say no (from Essentialism, by Greg McKeown):

10. Become Hard to Reach

Make yourself less available. If you don’t want to be overwhelmed, limit the access people have to you. 

This means living as asynchronously as possible and with minimal interruptions from coworkers.

If you explain the reason to do so, people will likely understand.

For example:

You’ll free up your inbox if you don’t share your email right away.

Receiving fewer emails allows you more time for other activities.

Email Processing: Creating a Better Inbox Experience

The other piece of the puzzle in your email productivity journey? Learn how to better process your inbox and step up your email writing game.

The rules below will turn anyone from an email newbie to an email master.

11. Turn Your Gmail Into a GTD Gmail

Here’s how my Gmail looks like:

I love this framework because it allows you to have:

Using this productivity system, your Gmail will double as an inbox as well as your task manager.

You can save all conversations that need action on – a reply, a reminder, or a task – while still keeping an inbox zero.

Want to copy my framework? Instructions on how to set it up on my GTD Gmail article.

12. Use a Workflow to Process Email Faster

Having a workflow for processing emails helps you make decisions. This means creating a methodical approach that will keep your inbox clean.

Drawing from “Getting Things Done”, think of every email you get as either something:

Having only 3 possible types of actions simplifies processing email in bulk. Less is more.

For example:

You get an email from your boss about the latest project you’re involved in. This is a “take action on” type of email.

You quickly shoot a message for another member of the team to set up a meeting and discuss next steps. That’s a “track” type of email.

You then write some ideas relevant for discussion in that meeting and email yourself. You will need these notes in the meeting later this week, a “refer to later” type of email.

13. Touch It Once 

You should only touch email (and every other task-based item) once. You may know this from the Getting Things Done method.

Every time you open a conversation, decide right away what to do with it

Don’t postpone and come back to it. You touch it once and move on.

Archive the email straight after replying. This workflow helps you make decisions and quickly get to Inbox Zero.

Don’t open email when you know you can’t deal with it right away.

You might think “I’ll take care of this later” and move on to another task. But then you are creating a cycle. You’re postponing your action only to come back to it later and use more of your time and energy to decide what to do with it.

Each time you have to re-evaluate and reconsider what to do with an email, you are wasting time. Over a long period, this time adds up.

Here’s the rule:

Decide right away what to do with it.

You can:

Don’t open emails out of curiosity. If you touch it, take action.

14. Use the 2-Minute Rule

The 2-minute rule helps you get rid of a ton of unimportant things from your to-do list. By doing so, you can focus your time on finishing the most important ones.

It does wonders to stop procrastination on its tracks.

Here’s how:

If an email takes less than 2 minutes to deal with, do it right away. Don’t add it to your to-do list and let it pile up.

By doing this you will be more productive and keep your inbox clean.

15. Consider Not Replying

Make your default behavior when receiving email to not respond.

There are obvious exceptions.

But by not replying, you reduce the amount of time you spend dealing with your inbox and the number of emails you receive.

16. Receive Fewer Emails

You have now designed a workflow for incoming email and a system for email productivity. So it’s time to reduce the number of emails you receive.

Here’s why:

Workflow + System + Fewer Emails = More Time for Deep Work.

Here are 3 ways to receive fewer emails:

17. Use Folders

With folders, you can filter the different actions you need to take on each email:

Your inbox should only have emails that you need to deal with. It shouldn’t be a place where you store your emails indefinitely. Once you’re done reading or replying, archive the email.

Folders can also help you sort email before you’ve opened it. 

The most simple would be to have an “action” and a “done” folder. This allows you to know what needs to get done and what you don’t have to worry about anymore.

Create your one system based on your own preferences using folders that best cater to you and your work.

18. Archive, Don’t Delete

Archiving emails is a better option than deleting them.

Need to find a document or an important conversation? Use search. You never know when you might need something from some time ago.

19. Create Templates for Common Emails

Sometimes, it can feel impossible to answer all the emails in your inbox.

Let technology do some of the work for you. By using email templates you won’t find yourself writing the same emails over and over again.

Templates help you save time and allow you to reply to a greater number of emails.

To learn how to easily create templates on Gmail, read my article on Gmail tricks.

20. Tell People What to Expect

Sometimes you can’t reply to an email because you lack information or time.

There’s a way to feel less guilty and decrease the other person’s anxiety about not having a response: 

Send a quick expectation-setting email. Inform the other person you are aware of their email and briefly explain the situation.

Here’s an example:

“Hello Jane, thank you for your email. I need to get some things sorted with our team. I will back to you at around 3pm”

By doing this, they will be up to speed and be comprehensive about it.

21. Cut Down on the Back-and-Forth Emails

To cut down your email volume:

22. Practice Good Email Etiquette

Mastering communication over email is an art. You want to be succinct but also get your message across. In an email, every word counts.

Here are six ways to get the results you’re looking for:

23. Get Personal (When Email Isn’t the Right Medium)

Email lacks social cues.

The tone of the message can vary and is open to the interpretation of the reader. Positive emails are interpreted as neutral, and neutral emails as negatively charged.

This makes email an awful medium for:

When you perceive that email might not be the best communication medium, get personal

Sometimes it’s easier to call or talk face-to-face. Personal interactions beat email any day of the week.

Work on Something That Excites You

It’s impossible to eliminate email from your life.

Using these email productivity best practices is the key to start the battle with an edge. Rule technology, instead of letting it rule you.

Don’t get me wrong. When used the right way, email can increase productivity. Unfortunately, that’s not how most people and companies use it. 

Now:

We do spend a lot of time checking our inbox. And the reason is that most of the time we’re not working on something that excites us. So we procrastinate.

If you have a big goal to achieve, something that excites you, email will become secondary. And that’s because you actually want to reach this important goal.

So, when you’re dealing with email, ask yourself:

“Is this helping me reach my goals or am I just procrastinating?”

This simple question will help you shift your focus from email to making progress on your goals.

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