Email is out of control.
It’s something we know at a gut level, but it can still be hard to address head-on. Email has infused our workdays and our non-workdays. It’s like the air, impossible to separate from the rest of our lives. But something must be done.
According to the McKinsey Global Institute, employees spend 28 percent of their workweeks reading and responding to email—in other words, at least eleven hours per week.
Furthermore, 43 percent of workers told the AtTask State of Work 2014 Report researchers that excessive email keeps them from getting things done.
Why is getting email under control so important? It kills our focus. “One of the biggest negative effects of email is that it's open in front of us all day,” says Michael Maven of Carter & Kingsley, London-based business consultancy. “When the messenger beeps, you tend to stop work and move all your attention over to the email program. Five minutes later the same thing may happen again. This consistent loop that you get stuck in is a massive productivity killer.”
It’s time for you and your employees to incorporate some meaningful strategies and apps for taming the beast. Read on for helpful techniques to bring your email under control and get more done in less time.
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Most email programs offer users the options to create folders so incoming messages can be immediately categorized or deleted. While aiming to get to “inbox zero” at the end of every workday probably isn’t realistic for everyone, moving messages into useful folders organized by client name or task type can certainly be accomplished. It’s all about prioritizing.
This way, receipts and meeting requests each get their own pot, as well as messages that will require a significant time commitment, such as a request for a proposal. Set up a specific time each week to deal with each folder in turn, and limit the number of times per day you check and file email to three or four sessions.
Next, make sure you’re keeping work email and personal email completely separate. “Using multiple e-mail addresses helps me keep control,” says Callie Fulmer, business designer and founder of PossibilitySparks.com. “I never sign up for any lists, promotions, or give this e-mail address out to any companies. It is only used for personal correspondence. I instantly unsubscribe from any lists this address may be added to.”
Find the Right App
There are dozens of good apps available for helping you to manage your inbox. Boomerang for Gmail, for example, lets you schedule emails to be sent later and provides reminders. Other good options include Thunderbird, Mailbox and Acompli.
“Boomerang allows you to get an email out of your inbox until a specific time, which helps clear your inbox and focus on what's immediately important,” says Marc Prosser of FitSmallBusiness.com. “Another great thing you can do with Boomerang is remind yourself to reach out to someone after a certain date in case they don't respond. Overall, Boomerang is a great tool for managing both your inbox and your outgoing messages.
As you integrate an app into your email habits, use good email manners and ask those you work with to do the same. Don’t write more than one paragraph per message and use bullet points when applicable.
Consider using Rapportive, which displays social media profile details and profile pictures for any contact in your inbox in a convenient sidebar. “It's amazing to be able to reference someone’s LinkedIn profile or Twitter feed for context when emailing,” says Clair Jones, the sales and marketing lead for an internet startup called localinternetservice.com, “because it allows you to tailor your message better and include more personalized details.”
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Look at Alternatives to Email for Internal Communication
It’s essential to avoid a huge chain of team members piling on your inbox via the dreaded “reply all.” If this is happening regularly at your organization, it’s time to rethink how you routinely communicate and consider avenues other than email, including calls, meetings, time management software or searchable Instant Messenger programs.
“Our CEO Jessica Mah had us move away from internal email in exchange for Slack—and it's been the best thing ever,” says Jamie Diamond, public relations manager at InDinero.com. “We've got offices in San Francisco, Manilla and Portland, Oregon, and Slack allows all 130 and growing employees to stay in for more close and efficient contact because of the chat style archives and real-time-ness Slack allows.”
Other popular team communication tools include Basecamp, Box, Flow and ClockingIt.
In addition to managing email correctly to save time, you also want to make sure you’re optimizing the messages you’re sending for sales and marketing purposes. That’s where email tracking tools come in.
“When you have a small staff, it's very hard to make sure that business emails are getting answered in a timely manner, and that you're building all the relationships you can to help your venture succeed,” says Jones.
“We use Yesware to help us send and follow up on important emails, because it allows us to set reminders, use templates and even do mail merges for marketing campaigns,” continues Jones. “You can see who is opening your emails and what they are clicking on, so you can see where you're succeeding and where you need to do better.”
Other good email tracking services include Sidekick, GetNotify, and ConstantContact.
Email is a powerful tool, especially when it’s deftly wielded.