Managing Emails to Save Time
Last week we covered time management and how time expert Laura Vanderkam, author of the best-selling 168 Hours recommends we track our time so we can make more time for ourselves. This month we’re going to cover one of our biggest time suckers: our email inbox.
I’m too embarrassed to share how many emails are sitting in my inboxes right now. Yes, inboxes. By December last year, despite my trying to keep up with my emails, I was at 40,000-plus! I was determined to get it to zero, but it’s impossible. As entrepreneurs, we’re constantly moving the needle and working on something. So, instead of trying to get to zero, I decided to figure out how to manage it. Here are three things that have been working for me:
1. Keep emails short
Fast Company's Liz Funk ran an article earlier this year on the rules to briefer, stronger emails. She adopted email rules that help focus on getting to the point—no more, no less. Among her email rules:
- Take the number of words you think your email should be, cut that number in half, and that’s what your word count should be.
- Never send an email that's more than five sentences long.
- Put the most important information first.
That second point is hard for someone like me who likes to give readers context, but she has a point. How many emails longer than 5 sentences do I bother to read? I don’t—not immediately, anyway. Instead, they sit in my email inbox, waiting for me to (wait for it) have time to read them. Guess what often happens? I never go back to them. Does this mean the emails I generate for others to read are treated with the same (dis)respect? Quite likely.
Here’s another reason short is better: It makes you focus on what’s important so the reader can act faster. You’re respecting your own time and that of your recipient.
2. Use unroll.me
Unroll.me is a program (also available as an app) that removes unwanted emails quickly by unsubscribing you from services you may (or may not) have subscribed to but no longer wish to receive. It’s free for the first 100 unsubscribes, and I’ve found that’s a really great starting point for most email accounts.
The service doesn’t kick in on its own; you’ll have to check off which emails you want to continue to receive and which ones you’re fine with unsubscribing. Then the service goes and unsubscribes you from the ones you don’t, making it much easier than manually unsubscribing—cleaning your inbox significantly.
3. Create email filters
Did you know many email programs and services (Gmail Outlook, to name two) allow you to create filters that will help you manage your inbox? I set up filters in my Gmail account at the beginning of this year, and I’m convinced I’ve gained at least an hour each day because the emails are more organized.
Since I work with several clients, I’ve added their names, emails, and company names into one filter. Any time I get an email associated with that client, their email automatically gets filtered into that folder, and I see the name in bold, indicating I have an unread email. I can jump into that email folder when I’m ready, as opposed to constantly being distracted with a new email notice in my general email inbox. Between the filters and the tabs I’ve created in my gmail account, I’ve saved hours managing my emails. Genius!
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