One area of our daily routine that seems to contribute to the whirlwind of tasks and projects that do not contribute to the outcomes and results we want is the way most of us manage email.
Because email has been adopted by body shops, customers and insurance companies as a primary method of exchanging information, there are many opportunities for email bloat to occur in your business life. And because email is how we commonly communicate in our personal life, the lack of email organization can become a real productivity parasite.
If you want to know where your time goes every day consider this: the average amount of time you spend looking at an email is about a minute. This doesn’t include any of the time spent taking action on the email or responding to the email. So, if you receive 100 emails per day and even just look at them and skim through them, you will spend over 1.5 hours of your day doing this.
Many people have studied this problem and there are some really good ideas out there to reduce the amount of time you spend managing (or not managing) emails. Most of these ideas spring from a concept called “inbox to zero”, which correlates to the idea of checking off things on your to-do list. None of these solutions are a one-size-fits-all technique but allow me to share a few that work for me and some others that are worth taking a look at.
The notion of getting your inbox to zero is probably a bit of a misnomer. If your days are anything like mine, you can clear your inbox at 10 a.m. and by noon, dozens of new emails have arrived in your inbox. Because of this, I believe we should look at our emails at strategic intervals throughout our day and that it should routinely be at zero by the time our day ends and we head for home.
How can this be done, you ask? Here are three simple ideas that do not require a lot of set up or brain power to manage:
- Automatically flow incoming mail into subfolder categories.
- Keep mailing lists, newsletters and briefings out of your inbox.
- Triage every email that does hit your inbox.
I’m going to get to the first two ideas in this column and will finish up the triage topic next month.
Automatically flow incoming mail. This is a tried-and-true system that works with all major email systems such as Outlook and Gmail. Essentially, you want to begin to create subfolders beneath your inbox and create rules that move incoming mail into the subfolder. Each subfolder will have a unique name that identifies the subject matter or sender of the email and a rule will be created based on the subject line or sender identification of the incoming email.
For example, every day I receive 7 CSI report emails, 7 sales and WIP report emails, and 7 length of rental report emails. I have a subfolder labeled “CSI”, another labeled “Daily Sales”, and another labeled “Enterprise LOR”. These report emails are important to me but not urgent. By automatically moving them into sub-folders, I can look at them when/if I choose and I do not have them staring me in the face when I look at my inbox.
To set this up, take a look at your current influx of emails and sort out the ones that come from a repeat sender on a recurring basis. Also, look for incoming emails that have a repeating subject line. These will be your best candidates for making subfolders. Just be careful to parse out the recurring emails that are described next; these you will want to handle differently.
Keep mailing lists, etc. out of your inbox. Over time, we all end up subscribing to lots of mailing lists, newsletters, and discussion groups. What you should do is make a rule that moves all these types of emails into a single subfolder that could be labeled “Mailing Lists”. I would not separate them into their own subfolders because then you end up spending time clicking around to look at them. Better to put them in one area of your email and only look through this folder once per day at most.
Here's a bonus idea: Turn off notifications. Turn them off on your desktop, laptop, tablet and your phone. If you are in the middle of a task or project and an email notification flashes on your screen or sounds off on your phone, what is your natural inclination going to be? That’s right, you look at it! These notifications belong in the urgent/not important box that we talked about recently. This is more evidence of how our productivity is diminished each day by distractions that we can actually control.
Next month, we will focus on how to triage the emails that we allow to come into our inbox. Until then, try implementing these first two ideas and let me know how much time you free up to focus on what is important.