While the way we work and communicate with each other for business is constantly evolving, one element has remained pretty constant for many years now: email. Our dependence on email and similar messaging apps to run our businesses and carry out our jobs is pretty entrenched. This is even more true of late as working remotely and more flexible working arrangements have become a lot more common.
However, although email remains a critical business tool, it has the potential to be a big drain on our productivity and a source of anxiety if not carefully managed. Just think about how often your train of thought gets interrupted by incoming notifications and the dread in the pit of your stomach when you log back in to see an intimidating number of unread emails sitting in your inbox.
Email and messaging apps are not going away anytime soon, particularly as we move to more flexible working arrangements, so here are a few tips to tame the beast.
Understanding the impact of your inbox
Our inboxes are heaving – it was estimated that in 2019 the average office worker would be dealing with 126 emails every day, a number you’d expect to be even bigger given more of us are working remotely and are expected to be connected beyond the usual 9 – 5.i
And it’s not just the volume of emails that is the issue, 42% of survey respondents admitted to checking emails in the bathroom, with 50% doing so from their beds. It’s clear that our inboxes are on our minds even away from the office, as they infiltrate other parts of our lives.ii
Setting up a system
Searching for and following up emails is one of the most common inefficiencies associated with email. To make things easier, create labels and rules to direct certain emails into folders – for instance, emails relating to a certain project so they won’t be lost amongst spam or general messages.
You can also send out auto replies so that senders get an instant response acknowledging the receipt of the email, which puts less pressure on you to reply immediately. Templates can also save you time; these are especially handy if you get many of the same type of enquiries.
Create email-free zones
If you’re one of the bedroom email checkers, put boundaries in place as to when and where you view your inbox. Attending to emails during a set period, such as when you start work, after lunch and an hour before you clock off, for example, doesn’t just make you more productive. A study in the Computers in Human Behaviour journal found that checking email less frequently reduced stress.iii
Reconsider what is essential
Not all emails need a response – how often do you reply just with a ‘thanks’ or ‘okay’ when it’d be fine to not reply? Recognise that not every response is urgently needed. Give yourself a realistic timeframe, such as replying within 48 hours to business enquiries, so that you don’t feel pressured to reply straight away.
Call rather than email where possible
While this can be a generational preference (millennials are not the biggest fans of phone calls), it’s fair to say many different generations have got into the habit of emailing rather than speaking with someone directly.iv Yet a quick phone call can address many points in real time so you’re not left waiting for a response. This will improve your productivity as well as not add to the clutter of your inbox.
Rather than being ruled by your inbox, make email work better for you with a few tweaks to the way you use it. So take back control and revel in your new found sense of accomplishment, while enjoying the additional time you now have for the tasks that really matter.