Email has been a dominant form of business communication for nearly 20 years. Yet while few people deny that it makes our work lives more efficient overall, email management does carry its own productivity drain.
A 2012 study by McKinsey Global Institute found that U.S. workers spend 28% of their workweek reading and answering emails. A large body of research has found that email notification pop-ups and other technological disruptions can harm the employee’s memory of tasks that were being performed before the disruption occurred.
For business owners, spending too much time managing their inbox can be especially productivity sapping and ultimately, a profit killer. How do you make email work for you, rather than against you? Below are five tips to help you with email management:
1. Avoid checking email first thing in the morning
Morning hours have proven time and again to be the most productive hours of the day. Instead of spending minutes or hours in the early morning reading and answering emails, devote that time to high-impact and profit-generating tasks that require your mental energy — like writing to that client you’ve been putting off. Then check your email during your first or second break after completing that task, at 10 a.m. or noon. If you have employees or clients who might need to contact you with urgent matters in the morning, tell them to do so via text or phone call.
2. Turn off your inbox alerts
One of the most time-consuming things you can do is check email as it continuously streams into your inbox. This distracts you from what you’re working on. Turn off any automatic alert that pops up every time you receive a new email. Instead, check your email no more than every few hours and schedule specific blocks of time, recommends etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore on Entrepreneur. “You might even try marking your calendar and setting your availability to ‘busy,’” she writes.
3. Immediately respond to emails that take less than five minutes to answer
Chances are that the vast majority of the emails you receive can be answered quickly. Rather than reading them and returning to those emails later, answer them immediately. This email management tactic will ultimately save you time.
4. Organize your inbox strategically
Filing away your emails into specific folders can make it much easier to locate them later and it helps clear your mind. Jill Duffy of PCMag offers a four-step guide for how to achieve this. Among her tips: Archive old emails into separate folders based on year or quarter-years, compartmentalize by sorting current emails into separate folders, either by your clients’ names or by type of email, and delete emails you don’t need.
5. Empty your main inbox each week
What’s more beautiful than an empty inbox? Since you’re sorting your emails, there’s really no reason to keep any in your inbox. Instead, make sure to clean out your inbox every Friday afternoon or Sunday evening, filing emails in the appropriate folders and deleting unnecessary emails. This allows you to start your week with a clean slate instead of spending Monday morning tackling your inbox.
Keep in mind that you can cut down dramatically on email by unsubscribing to emails you don’t need or want. De-cluttering your inbox — or at least sending junk email to a separate email address — can help eliminate distraction and keep you focused on the emails that matter.