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10 Time-Saving Email Management Tips
June 7, 2021
Despite predictions by The Wall Street Journal about its demise beginning in 2009, which has been echoed by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg or Inc. Magazine among others every year since email is still considered to be one of the most valued and preferred methods of communication.
Since it’s technically been around since 1971 – when the very first email was sent – that’s not surprising; many people have grown up with email and are therefore completely comfortable with it.
Though we love and use it, far too many of us can relate to the vast amount of time spent managing our email. While it varies as to exactly how much time, most of us will agree that it often feels like wasted time that we could be applying to get our work and tasks done.
In this article, we offer 10 time-saving and practical email management tips for the overwhelmed emailer.
Before we get to the tips, let’s look briefly at some of the sobering stats about email.
In 2020, these users sent and received more than 306.4 billion email messages. By 2025, it’s expected to increase to over 376.4 billion daily email messages.
In 2015, the average number of worldwide business emails sent and received per day (per person) was 122. By 2019, that number was expected to increase to 126.
Sarah Tetlow is the CEO and Founder of Firm Focus, a productivity coaching and consulting company. Sarah developed the A.R.T.T. Email Productivity System™ to help her clients take control of their email inboxes, and it is not uncommon for her to see 20,000 to 50,000 emails in inboxes on average.
“On the low end, we're talking about 5,000 messages,” she says. “And that means they haven't been at that company or had that email address for very long. On the high end, I might see 90,000 emails or more.”
Speaking of the high end, Sarah actually had a client with over 1 million emails in their inbox. This particular client runs a CPA firm and had accumulated them over the span of 25-plus years. Sarah says that after implementing the A.R.T.T. System, the client now ends most days with between zero and 20 emails in their inbox, a testament to the fact that you can manage the flow of emails without getting overwhelmed.
While you may not get to that nirvana of email management today, let’s jump into some of the tips that we offer to lower email overload with ideas from Sarah and other email pros.
10 time-saving email management tips
1. Choose to “Delete” and empty the trash
When you open your inbox, the first thing you should do is explore what email that you can delete. It seems like it should be an intuitive first step, right? But for many of us, unfortunately, it’s not. We often scan through unread email messages and even read some, but then we don’t follow through right away to do anything about it.
Take a look at the sender and subject line, and if it’s obvious from that initial scan that it’s junk email, delete it immediately. Similarly, if they are promotional emails, sales, advertisements, or other types of non-essential email messages that you won’t need, chuck them right away.
If you’re using Gmail, these deleted messages will be sent to the “Trash” folder and If you are using Outlook, those deleted emails go into the “Deleted Items” folder. In both of these programs, deleted emails will be automatically (and permanently) deleted after 30 days.
However, it’s still a good idea to periodically empty that folder to clear up space within your inbox. Just keep in mind while you’re doing so that these are permanently deleted and thus unrecoverable emails.
2. Pick a specific time(s) to check email every day
Business professionals in the U.S. check work email more than three hours per day and personal email two-plus hours daily, according to a 2019 Adobe email usage study. And in another survey during July 2019, 52% of U.S. “white collar” workers said that they checked their personal email every few hours while at work, while 11% reported checking it constantly.
Although it’s true that checking your email throughout the day ensures that you won’t miss an important one, doing so constantly can be distracting, inefficient, and disruptive to productivity and other work – and, as a result, potentially anxiety-producing.
Try to set time(s) every day to check your email. It might be at a specific time in the morning, afternoon, and evening (or just twice per day) that remains the same throughout your week. Or it could be at a different time every day, or every other day, whichever works best for your particular schedule.
3. Set a limit to the time you spend in your inbox
While you’re in your inbox checking your email, be sure to set a time limit for the amount of time that you’ll actually be spending there. Otherwise, you could be like the 50-plus-percenters mentioned above and easily spend hours reading emails.
“You shouldn't be sitting down for hours trying to manage email,” notes Sarah. “If you’re spending more than 10% to 15% of your day on email [which is an hour], then something is broken.”
When it comes to reading emails, you can use the “two-minute rule,” based on a concept from David Allen, author of the book entitled Getting Things Done. That is, “If it takes less than two minutes, then do it now.” Applying that concept to email, if it takes anywhere from one to two minutes to read and reply to an email, then reply to the email immediately.
4. Flag or star important messages that you can’t respond to immediately
During your inbox management time, you’ll come across email messages that you cannot reply to right away. Mark these in some fashion so that you can address and process them accordingly at a later point. Fortunately, most email programs enable this through the use of flags or stars.
Email management software then lets you filter or sort those flagged or starred items at your designated “later date.” Just when that later date occurs is up to you, but a good rule of thumb is to come back to them in no more than a few days.
5. Apply the 80/20 rule: Prioritize 20% of your email, while deferring 80% of them
The Pareto Principle, which specifies that 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes, is also known as the Pareto Rule or the 80/20 rule. While this economic principle cannot be applied to every scenario under the sun, it can be a useful email management tool.
To translate the Pareto Principle to email, Sarah suggests, “Whether you’re a business owner, leader, or manager progressing your team, that 20% of the email that you receive is probably what's going to drive you toward progress. And the other 80% of your inbox? Probably distractions.”
Junk mail, for instance, is part of that 80% of lower priority and where most people busy themselves. She suggests that when people say, “I get hundreds of emails a day,” only 20% really need their attention. That’s what is going to drive them forward. They can organize the 80% in a way that isolates those as a lower priority so that higher priority emails are not lost in the noise.
“That way, the 20% that you truly need, that are going to be revenue-generating or move you forward, can be quickly identified and handled,” she says.
6. Organize your email with folders/labels/categories
Organizing emails in Outlook or Gmail is the logical next step once you’ve identified that 20% that you want to keep. Create as many folders (Gmail calls these folders “labels”) as you need within your inbox, tailoring them to your specific organizational needs.
You can name this folder structure by project, client, subject, etc., and even use a hierarchical format with categories and subcategories to further customize, segment, and prioritize your emails. Not only is this efficient, but it also makes it easier and faster to find certain email messages when you look for them as you can narrow the category during the search.
Note: When you use the “Move to” function in Gmail and “Move” in Outlook, then you’re moving that email out of the inbox itself and into the actual folder or label that it belongs in. This is another way to help reduce the size of your inbox.
7. Use signatures, templates, and subject lines when creating an email
To save time when creating an email, why not reuse what’s already worked for you in the past. You can save specific subject lines or pieces of an email into templates for similar correspondence.
Another often overlooked area is the email signature. If you find that you’re signing your email messages with similar contact details for one or more of your clients take a moment to create a customized signature. You can also manage multiple signatures for different recipients by creating rules.
8. Maintain a quarterly archive
Archiving emails is another way to help organize your inbox and ultimately save you email management time. If you’re unsure about deleting an email that you may need again in the future, then archiving is a good choice as it moves email messages from your inbox into your archive. In Gmail, this is located in the “All mail” folder, and in Outlook, it’s the “Archive” folder. You can then easily find it again via the search function.
If you want to take it even further, rather than lump them all together within the same archived folder, you can choose to segment a block of email messages by a certain time period. For instance, at the start of each quarter, you may want to create an archive for the previous quarter. If you’re unsure about how to label or categorize a particular email, then archiving by date is a good option.
9. Apply automation tools such as filters for specific senders
Using automation tools such as creating email filters is another time-saving email management strategy, and it can help ensure that you don’t miss important email messages from certain senders. An email filter helps you sort, label, or categorize like-minded emails into specific folders or even archives. You can filter by email address, body text, subject line, attachments, and more.
You can even have emails skip the inbox altogether by creating a rule if you need to keep emails for reference, but don’t need to see them individually.
10. Unsubscribe from newsletters, promotions, or other things you don’t (or rarely) read
Just like our first tip, there is something very satisfying about being able to let go of unwanted email messages. Unsubscribing from newsletters, promotions, or other junk email produces a similar effect. If you find yourself deleting email from certain subscriptions regularly, or rarely if ever read the ones you do have, then unsubscribing is probably a sound strategy.
Bonus tip: Understand that email management is time management
No matter what your vocation, avocation, or location, everyone functions under the same 24 x 7 time allotment in a week. How we use that time varies widely among us, but what’s nearly universal is that most of us would do well to spend less time managing our emails.
“The less time email is taking up, the more time you can accomplish your goals, have a work-life balance, stop work on time, and be with your family,” says Sarah. “You’re feeling more accomplished because if you're not spending your time on email during work hours, then you're actually getting work done.”
About the Author: Jolene Dobbin is a contributing writer for HP Tech@Work. Jolene is an East Coast-based writer with experience creating strategic messaging, marketing, and sales content for companies in the high-tech industry.
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