Take back your productivity from the jaws of email with five easy-to-implement tips and a simple filter that'll drop email time in half.
"I'm sorry son, but I just don't love you as much as my email."
Did you know that the average adult spends about 13 hours emailing each week? How about that the average parent spends about 12.3 hours per week with their children?
Sadly, it's true, we now spend more time on email than we do raising our own children.
“Email is familiar. It's comfortable. It's easy to use. But it might just be the biggest killer of time and productivity in the office today.” - Ryan Holmes, Hootsuite
If only solving the email problems so simple to just "shut it off." Co-workers CC everyone they can think of, bosses write dissertations for emails, and FYI crams our inbox. There is hope, however, to train coworkers and retake inboxes.
First, we must eliminate any of our own bad habits, which also communicates to coworkers that we're just too busy for drawn-out, rambling emails.
Related Article: Email Organization Tips from Highly Productive People
1. Be Brief and Keep It Under 5 Sentences
"I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter."- Blaise Pascal
I once had an entrepreneur send me a three-part, 15 paragraph "email" on his startup. Trying to be helpful, I drudged through the whole dissertation only to leave with two things:
- I had no clue what he did or how to help.
- His startup's name sounded like a video game.
I ended up forgetting everything and kept the emails only as examples to use when training my own entrepreneurs. This is why this point is first: if it can't be said in under 5 sentences, it shouldn't be said on email. Period.
2. One Actionable CTA
If you're getting off-topic, wandering email responses too frequently, the problem might be that your recipients can't easily ascertain your call to action—or worse, there isn't one.
If I had a dollar for every entrepreneur that's emailed me with a fuzzy or non-existent call to action (i.e. "could I meet you somewhere sometime in the future?"), I'd no longer have to work.
Generally, emails that can be read and replied to in one minute or less get responses.
Here are two of my favorites that also eliminate workload:
Scheduling a meeting: "... let's jump on a 15-minute call Tuesday the 22nd at 3 PM. If that doesn't work, feel free to pick a time from my calendaring app (I use Calendly)"
Why it works: Specificity - they know I'm available Tuesday and interested in meeting next week, not next quarter, and options - using a calendaring tool helps them schedule themselves. It also greatly reduces the back-and-forth scheduling nightmare.
Elimininating the middle-(wo)man: "You'll want to discuss with Archie (CC'ed). Archie, could you please help John with X?"
Why it works: Partially because it connects the relevant parties and partially because the last thing you want to be is the middle man.
3. Include Only Critical Parties (That Means No CCing)
"Nothing kills a party like an email chain" - No one, but someone's thought it I'm sure
I believe an email is either to someone or wasting their time. Period.
Is it for my information? Are you trying to cover your backside? Are you including me as a threat to another (eg. including someone's boss on an email chain—a poor move, to say the least)?
By why is limiting recipients, and eliminating CCs, helpful?
- It reduces the "bystander effect," which refers to cases where individuals don't offer help with others are present. This means that your email to two people is significantly more likely to get responded to than an email to 15 people.
- Most people want to show they're contributing, so if the email does get responded to then the likelihood is for a massive, rabbit-hole diving email chain to rear its ugly head. The only thing worse than a 20 paragraph email is a 20 paragraph, difficult-to-follow email cobbled together from 15 coworkers.
The steps are easy, it's just training ourselves. However, there are two techniques that I've seen that help train your coworkers to be better emailers, and they both come from Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week.
Related Article: Is Coffee Roasting Your Productivity?
4. Train Co-Workers With This Email Signature
Try this for your email signature, and see what happens:
General Signature information
Q: Why is this email five sentences or less?
I personally like this one because it's not too in-your-face and has a high click-through rate, helping to spread the gospel of reducing email one email at a time.
5. Setup an Autoresponder and Check Email Twice, or Less, per Day
All credit goes to Tim on this one, and here's an email template that 1000's of employees, entrepreneurs, and managers have tested:
Greetings, Friends [or Esteemed Colleagues],
Due to high workload, I am currently checking and responding to e-mail twice daily at 12: 00 P.M. ET [or your time zone] and 4: 00 P.M. ET.
If you require urgent assistance (please ensure it is urgent) that cannot wait until either 12: 00 P.M. or 4: 00 P.M., please contact me via phone at 555-555-5555.
Thank you for understanding this move to more efficiency and effectiveness. It helps me accomplish more to serve you better.
I'll be honest, this one took me a while to implement as I was nervous of the fallout. Turned out, people were generally happier on the autoresponder accounts because at least they knew why I was no longer responding.
(Bonus) Use a Gmail Filter to Eliminate CC Chains
While you might have stopped CC'ing, your coworkers probably won't. Here's a little trick I created for gmail / Google Apps accounts to eliminate non-actionable emails:
- Do a search: "From * cc:me"
- Click the down arrow next to the search bar -> Create filter from search.
- Options: mark as read, skip the inbox (archive it), label (I use "CC'ed")
- Create filter
What this does is keep any CCs from reaching my inbox. I then scan them once per week to make sure there wasn't anything important that I missed. It's glorious.