It’s easy to see why: email has essentially replaced many other methods of business communication with the average employee spending 28% of the working week reading and responding to emails according to McKinsey data.
Rather than having face-to-face meetings or getting on the phone, we are now funnelling everything straight into our inboxes in an easily digested format.
Email is essential, especially as a CEO, and there are undoubtedly a multitude of emails that you need to read and respond to every day.
But as critical as email is, it can also be a distraction. Email connects you to every business contact you know 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; if it’s a replacement for face-to-face meetings, it’s like having everyone you know in a single room all the time.
In fact the total number of business and consumer emails sent and received per day is growing at an average annual rate of 4.4% and is predicted to 319.6 billion by the end of 2021.
Your inbox can quickly spiral out of control without the appropriate discipline. It’s easy to fall into email habits that can make your email usage less than productive. Gaining control of your inbox can often mean gaining control over your day.
Here are some strategies and tips to better organise your email inbox.
Reserve time to respond to emails
An average person checks their emails 15 times a day. Yet research by the University of British Columbia found that checking email only three times a day could reduce stress.
Checking email at the beginning, middle, and end of your work day could be the first step that you take to improving your productivity and your mental energy.
- Turn off your notifications. If you keep hearing the bing of emails coming in, you’re really just ramping up your stress.
- Let everyone know you’re trying something new. Once those around you get used to you being available at certain times, they’ll adjust accordingly.
- Limit the amount of time you spend on emails. In addition to scheduling your email, try to get your work done within a specific amount of time.
Of course, as a CEO, there are times when there are emergencies, but that’s what phone calls and text messages are for. As long as everyone knows that email is not for high-priority activities, you should be able to manage your email more effectively in far less time.
Utilise email features
In just the last decade, email technology has come quite far. Yet most people are still using their email the same as they did ten years ago — and failing to leverage the technology designed to make their lives much easier.
When properly used, email technology can promote higher priority emails, strip out unimportant emails, and take care of tagging and categorisation for you.
- Star high-priority emails. If there are emails that you need to follow up on or get back to later, set their priority as ‘high’ or star them, depending on the system that you use. This makes it less likely that something will be missed.
- Label your emails intelligently. Use basic keywords to describe your emails, such as ‘marketing’ or ‘HR.’ This will make it easier for you to sort through your emails later on, especially when used on a department basis.
- Mark emails Read and Archived when you’ve dealt with them. Keeping your inbox clear of clutter is one of the first steps towards taking control over your communications.
- Avoid overly elaborate folder systems. Though it may feel as though you’re organising your emails, you’re really just setting them aside for later — and the more folders you have, the more likely something is to be overlooked.
- Schedule and automate your emails. Systems like Gmail’s Boomerang make it easy to schedule emails automatically and to send email reminders. Anything you do regularly can be automated, such as responding to reoccurring emails.
Know when to pick up the phone
Picking up the phone has become a last resort, but it’s actually the fastest way to have a complex conversation. If you don’t want to email someone back and forth 20 times (or if you’re finding yourself playing ‘email tag’ with someone), you can simply pick up the phone and get the situation resolved immediately.
Phone calls are best for:
- Immediate responses. If you want to be able to relegate your emails to certain scheduled times of day, you may need an answer fast. A phone call gets you the information you need right away.
- Details. Any time you need to ask questions and then follow up with additional questions, a phone call is usually faster. This also goes for anything that would be needlessly long to type up.
- Miscommunications. If the other person doesn’t seem to understand your email, a phone conversation may be exactly what you need. Some concepts are just more easily understood when talked through.
Limiting email within your business
Change has to occur from the top down when it comes to something as ubiquitous as email usage. By requesting that employees limit email throughout your business, you can transfer your own newfound productivity to the rest of your employees.
Encourage your employees to send consolidated emails rather than emailing throughout the day and urge them to use phone calls or instant messaging when they can.
An overabundance of emails throughout a business often leads to workloads being shifted around rather than actually completed. Instead of finishing a document, employees may send them back and forth asking extraneous questions, and while that still amounts to work, it reduces productivity. By reducing the amount of email usage in your business overall, you can increase the amount of actual work product.
Boost your productivity
There’s no doubt that email is one of the best communication tools available today, but it’s also often stealing more time than it should. Email is overused, and it has to be managed effectively. It can easily become a time sink if it’s allowed to spiral out of control.
Once you’re able to reduce the amount of time you spend on emails, you’ll also find that you’re actually getting far more done.
By taking action to reduce your email usage — and your company’s email usage — you can foster more effective communication habits.
But it isn’t going to happen overnight, especially in a world that is as reliant upon email as this one. Through TEC, you can connect with professionals and leaders and court their opinions on better productivity, communication, and business processes.
Listen to the TEC Live podcast for more leadership and business insights to inform and inspire you every time you listen.