Email is someone else’s opinion of how to spend your time. This is a mantra I firmly believe! If you don’t take control of incoming email, and make mindful decisions on how to deal with it, then you’re at risk of wasting hours every day. Some inbox mistakes are easy to avoid, and dealing with your email faster is definitely within reach.
Here are 10 mistakes getting in the way of faster email.
How many of these are you making?
1) Not unsubscribing.
It’s almost impossible to buy, download or consume anything online these days without being signed up to an email list. Unless you make unsubscribing a frequent habit, you’re going to end up with more and more messages you don’t care about.
2) Thinking you have to respond immediately.
Average response times to email are falling. One study said two minutes is becoming typical! In my view, that’s just ridiculous. It’s up to you to think purposefully about what a reasonable response time is for the messages you receive. Email is not a game of tennis. You don’t have to hit it all back as soon as it comes at you.
3) Thinking you have to respond at all.
Again, you’re in control here. If you get a poorly thought-out request for your time, or a note where all you need to say is “got it”, the best response might be none at all.
4) Filing too carefully.
In the early days of email, we stored our messages in folders and you might have come up with a pretty complex system. I know I did! Now, search capabilities are so much better, you might be able to get away with just archiving everything that you don’t want under your nose, and searching for it when you need it.
5) Not creating canned responses.
If you get multiple messages which require similar answers, take the time to learn how to set up a canned response. This is particularly useful if you get many requests for things which are not a priority for you. Say it once, say it graciously, and make that response work hard for you every time a similar request arrives.
6) Not realising people process email differently.
Last week this piece from Seth Godin hit the news, advising us not to hit snooze on an incoming email. I imagine it works wonderfully for him, in the context of his many other inbox habits and processes. However, if your general approach to email is different, this advice is dire. You’ll be making mistake number 7 before you know it:
7) Allowing every incoming email to drag you in.
Many of us (I suspect, not Seth) work with our inbox permanently open. I question the wisdom of this, but the fact is, that’s what we do. However, every time a new message arrives, you must be mindful. Pause to realize you have the choice of whether to do anything about it, and under what timescale.
8) Trying, but failing, not to check email first thing in the morning.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen this advice…! Yes, it’s well-meant. But the reality is, most of us do start the day with a quick glance at email. Instead of beating yourself up about it, aim for the middle ground. You don’t have to check email the moment your eyes open. And if you do skim messages, remember that “triage” doesn’t mean you have to deal with everything, or even anything, before you address more valuable work.
9) Feeling you spend more time on email than you do.
Amazingly, many of us feel like email takes up more time than it actually does. This is a consequence of our inbox being open, and dipping in and out multiple times each hour. Aside from the inefficiencies of your brain switching tasks, you’ll develop a belief that you’re spending longer than you are.
So, it’s well worth experimenting with intentional time slots for processing email and, ideally, closing your inbox at other times. The likelihood is, you’ll save time doing it, but even if you don’t, you’ll feel better about email’s role in your life. And isn’t that worth it?
10) Being part of the problem.
Few of us wish we got more email, so here’s a reminder that your own outbound emails should be respectful of others. Think carefully about whether to send, when to send, and what you include in your message. Make your subject lines meaningful. If it’s urgent, say so. And, if you’re asking the recipient to do something, remember it’s ultimately up to them how they respond to you.
Worksheet: How to do an Email Audit
My 7 page printable worksheet, How to do an Email Audit, is now available as part of my Writer’s Productivity Bundle.
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