Mindset & Mindfulness, Time Management

How to Do an Email Audit

Feeling overwhelmed by all the email you get? You’re not alone! Many workers report spending more than 2 hours a day just reading and responding to emails. And with the average person checking email about 15 times a day, it can feel like a never-ending burden.

Why did I do an email audit?

Late last year, I became aware that the time I was spending on incoming email wasn’t sustainable. As a curious, multi-passionate writer, I find loads of information online that interests me. I’m also a voracious learner, as I’m trying to build my own tribe and generate a living wage as a writer. So, I’m signed up for a lot of email newsletters! Multiple times a day, fascinating articles, resources and how-to guides arrive in my inbox. I began to suspect the inflow of information was dominating my time to the extent my own work priorities were suffering.

So, I decided to spend a week doing an email audit. In order to reduce my perceived email problem, I figured I’d start by understanding what I was receiving. I had an inkling that newsletters were a particular problem, and I suspected that some pushy businesses were sending me almost daily communications.

How to do an email audit | Pauline Wiles


How to do your own email audit (and how I did mine)

If you’d like to do your own audit, I created a worksheet and it’s now available for sale as part of my Writer’s Productivity Bundle.

  1. Pick the time period for your audit. A week is great, but even 1-2 days should still be helpful.
  2. Come up with categories for your incoming emails, based on your suspicions about what’s causing your email overload. See the worksheet for suggestions. Mine included:
    • Personal / professional;
    • Time taken to deal with each email;
    • And I suggest you consider urgent / not urgent, too.
  3. Remember to log every email before you delete it or file it. You’ll need to be especially careful when “checking” email on your phone.
    • If you have your inbox set up with different tabs (so that your emails are sorted for you), remember you’ll need to count those too.
  4. If you find you need new categories during your audit, just add them.
  5. If you suspect some senders are emailing more frequently than you’d like, keep track of them, too.
  6. At the end, look for the lessons:
    • Where can you simply unsubscribe?
    • Which emails take you the most time to process? Do 20% of your messages take 80% of your time?
    • Can you reduce the number of new updates you sign up for?
    • Do you receive a lot of similar questions, for which you should create template responses?
    • How urgent (truly) are the emails you get? If you dealt with emails just 3 times a day, what would the consequences be?
    • Is “inbox zero” important to you? If so, what has to change, to get there?

Writer's Productivity Bundle | Pauline Wiles

What I discovered from my email audit

I received about 160 emails during that week, but the number isn’t important. What matters is the mix of what was in there, and how long the different categories took me to absorb, or action. I found:

  • There weren’t many where I simply needed to unsubscribe. I try to make a habit of unsubscribing constantly, and it seems I’d been doing a good job of this. But I was surprised: I thought there’d be more which I could remove from my life entirely.
  • I deleted about 25% of my emails without even reading them. Partly, that’s thanks to good subject lines, and they came from organizations I’m willing to stay somewhat “in touch” with, without reading everything they send me.
  • For another 25%, I scanned them (and in some cases dealt with them) in less than a minute. I could then delete these. They included local weather alerts, confirm-your-subscription requests, articles I saved to relevant how-to files, and so on.
  • The tricky 30% were the 48 emails I classified as interesting information which can be read at any time. Generally, these are organizations which offer me helpful resources, but no response is needed and if I never read them, the world would keep spinning. And these are the ones which take considerable time to read and implement. I didn’t get through all of them this week, but I estimated my average time was 8 minutes for each.  For me, that would add up to over 6 hours of just reading “useful” information.

My actions based on this:

  • Stop signing up for free mini courses, no matter how tempting they look. I’m underwater with these right now.
  • I need to prune the number of newsletters I get, by being even more conscious of whether they bring me value and are still closely aligned with my interests.
  • Unsubscribe from people/organizations who land in my inbox more than once a week. That’s a personal rule, but I’m dismayed that more than one productivity coach thinks it’s okay to bombard me with email. Another service provider sent me two newsy emails today, just 30 minutes apart! I’ll continue to keep an eye on frequency.

My verdict: yes, doing my email audit took some time, but it was a real eye-opener to me. If I’m going to spend almost a day each week reading emails, I want it to be intentional.

Have you ever tried an audit like this? What did you learn? Or, will you be giving this a go?

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4 Comment

  1. Reply
    Hilary S
    January 16, 2019 at 9:20 am

    I wa checking my emails and your headline caught my eye! YES YES YES! Companies that send you a new email every day or even more than once a day as if to remind you that they still exist and each one is a distraction even if you don’t open it. I have unsubscribed from several, but that in itself takes time and distracts. I am definitely going to try your system for filing and sorting on a regular basis. I’ve skimmed your suggestions and am earmarking it for another occasion when I can actually work on doing some email pruning. Thank you for this post which really resonated with me. 🙂 And the number of posts I receive from you is just right – so I do actually read them!

    1. Reply
      January 16, 2019 at 10:09 am

      Hilary, how wonderful that this hit the spot for you today! I’m so pleased you want to dig deeper into your emails – and I’m relieved that the frequency you’re hearing from me is about right. I tried to be diplomatic in the post, but in honesty I was pretty indignant that some “productivity” coaches are so disrespectful of my inbox.

  2. Reply
    April J Harris
    January 27, 2019 at 2:48 am

    I definitely need to do an email audit, Pauline, but I had no idea where to start. Your post has so much great practical advice. Pinning and sharing. Thank you so much for bringing this post to Hearth and Soul. As someone with thousands of emails from many years lurking in my inbox, I can’t wait to begin this process!

    1. Reply
      January 27, 2019 at 10:57 am

      Even though I’ve finished my “official” audit, April, I’m keeping an eye on how often some organisations/people are emailing me with their promotional newsletters. This has been a real surprise to me, that they think every 2-3 days is acceptable. Uggh!

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