Benjamin Franklin famously once said that “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” These days it feels email should be added to the list. And not in a good way. It is a proven productivity sink that costs billions of dollars.
While there have been some pretty good attempts to change the way we use email, many of us are still stuck with the current status quo. If you are in that boat, here are 8 hacks to help with email overload and minimize email-related stress.
1. Turn off notifications
We are all wired biologically to want to check the email the instant a notification window pops up. This dopamine rush quickly gives way to a feeling of despair as you realize it’s another problem to deal with. One you put off for later as you return to try and get the frame of mind you were in before you got interrupted by email. Cognitively, this takes 1.5 minutes to read and recover from the average email. This quickly adds up over the day in lost productivity.
Nip the problem in the bud by making sure you don’t see the notification pop up in the first place. This way, you won’t be tempted to check each and every mail as they come in. Here are instructions to disable notifications for the most popular email clients.
2. Batch process your emails
Set aside certain times a day to check your email. Using this method has two key benefits. Firstly, it minimizes the time spent and mental effort switching between tasks which adds up over the day. Next, and perhaps more importantly, it ensures you are focused at the task at hand. Knowing that you have a finite amount of time to get through your email will ensure you quickly trash the unimportant, and respond to those that are. For the rest of the time, you aren’t distracted by your email while you complete the task at hand.
3. Use Templates
Depending on your job, you may receive many versions of the same question. Most email software allows you to preset responses you can load and edit to reduce the overall time spent writing your email.
You can start by using software like textexpander to save snippets of commonly used phrases, or paragraphs. You can even use it for different signatures.
4. Go easy on the email signature
Speaking of email signatures, this is one way you can help your recipient. As far as possible, try not to use images or ‘inspirational quotes’. These not only take time to process but also have a negative impact on email size and loading time.
Instead, just include the necessary contact information and relevant links to your company.
5. Optimize your email to minimize potential embarrassment
Whenever drafting a new email, I find it helpful to first draft the subject, attach any needed files, move on to the body of the email, before filling in who the email should go out to. This has saved me from embarrassing situations like forgetting to include an attachment or sending an email to an unintended recipient you first thought needed to be on the email. It also encourages you to check your email before populating the recipients and sending it off.
6. Were you bcc-ed?
When replying, you should always check if you were bcc-ed in the original email. If you are on the bcc list, there usually is a good reason and it would be a bit of an awkward corporate faux pas if you replied all.
7. Use the subject line wisely
The subject line is prime real estate for your emails. It is the difference between your request being responded to as soon as it is read, filed and potentially forgotten or worse, deleted immediately.
I normally use square brackets to define the ask, if it’s a meeting, I may include [31 Oct at 2 pm] in the title, if I require an urgent response I’d tag it [urgent response]. If it is a single sentence email asking for my permission – I would have the response in the subject, and [end] to note that there isn’t anything of note in the email body. This has saved me a fair amount of time over the years.
8. Don’t use your email as a to-do list
From time to time, we all do this out of convenience – which works in a pinch. However, email was designed to be a communications tool, not a task manager. Modern task managers are far better equipped for tasks and projects like version control (no more v3_final_final document files) and collaboration between parties. Using one of these dedicated project/task managers also help delineate the information from the task, reducing clutter. For task managers, a few of us here at One.com use Trello and Asana.
Hopefully, these 8 hacks give you the tools you need to reduce the amount of stress you face while dealing with the volumes email you receive each day. If you have another tip, let us know in the comments!