As a systems and efficiency expert, I often work with people who are trying to get more time back into their day. With the average US office worker spending at least 28% of their day on asynchronous communication (and that was before the pandemic!), email often emerges as one of the core areas I can help people reclaim their time and energy.
Below are 10 ways you can simplify, streamline, and reduce your email communication so that you have more time to do deep, focused work that actually moves the needle.
Create email templates. Look through your inbox and determine the 10-20 responses you type out the most often. Then, set up templates for those responses. You don’t have to just “copy and paste” them, but you can use them as a framework to help you respond quickly, rather than starting from scratch each time. Here’s a tutorial for how to set up email templates in Gmail.
Add a smart signature or contact page. Reducing unnecessary emails is all about setting boundaries. But that can be easier said than done, right? For some inspo, check out this impressive list of guidelines created by University of Washington Professor Emily M. Bender. While that might not be realistic for all of us, hopefully, it gives you a few ideas of things you could provide in your email signature or on your website to cut down on email volume. What are people’s most frequently asked questions or things they need to be directed to? What tutorials or resources can you point them to ahead of time?
Establish guidelines for To, CC, and BCC. How you utilize this is up to you, but this can greatly reduce email volume/stress within organizations. An example would be “Anyone in the “To” field needs to respond to the email. Anyone in the CC field needs to be aware of this information. Anyone in the BCC field just needs a copy of this information for their records.” People can then set up filters that will automatically send emails they are CC’d or BCC’d on into separate folders, so those types of messages are not cluttering up their inbox on a daily basis. Utilize these when you’re starting threads, but also as the thread evolves. Move people through the To/CC/BCC stages as their connection to the information/project evolves.
When in doubt, don’t email. You don’t need to send an email every time a question or idea pops into your head. Instead, create a document where you can organize these by person, topic, or project. Then, the next time you’re sending an email to Sue in HR or have a scheduled meeting with her, you can go through those questions. Being smart about the emails you send, means you get fewer email responses.
One topic per email. Avoid sending emails containing requests, questions, or information about a wide variety of topics. Always do your best to have each email focused on one core topic. It’ll increase your chances of getting clear, concise, and prompt responses.
Format your emails. No one wants to read a 1,000-word email with no line breaks, okay? Help your reader! Be concise. Add headlines or bold text where necessary. Create numbered or bulleted lists. If it’s helpful, provide a TL;DR “summary” where people can get a quick recap on what the email is about, but make it easy for them to identify the summary so they can skip it, if possible. Use hyperlinks to direct them to relevant info rather than copy/pasting, adding attachments, or rambling. As far as length, a good rule of thumb: people should be able to see the entire email on their screen without scrolling.
Learn how and when to utilize the archive function. Deleting an email means it is gone forever. Archiving an email means it is out of your inbox but safely stored in your archive folder. That way, it’ll still come up in your search results. Archiving is a great way to keep your inbox clear without the fear of losing important information. Rule of thumb? If you’ll never need to see/reference an email again: delete it. If it might come in handy: archive it.
Have designated email times. Taking time away from email (both physically and mentally) reduces burnout and overwhelm. Establish clear times when you send and reply to emails and stick to them. Pro tip: identify what time of day you are best suited to respond to emails. For many of us, our energy peaks in the first 2-3 hours of work — so you might prefer not to waste that good energy on a mundane task like email. You might also find that having email as one of your first “to-dos” causes you to procrastinate, zaps your energy, or ruins your mood. Figuring out the best time of day for you will help email become an enjoyable task rather than a chore.
Bless and release. As a famous Greek philosopher once said, “If an email is that important, the sender will send it again”. Or…something like that. If you can’t get to an email, try to “bless it and release it” and assume that if it was that important or urgent, you’ll get another email about it. I also take this approach if someone sends what I like to call a “Sigh Priority Email”. These are emails that cover multiple topics and have a dozen questions/requests (see tip #5). Rather than hit every point, I’ll respond with what I have time/energy for. I’ll assume that if the other points in the email are important, they’ll send another (and hopefully, the next one will be better organized).
Strengthen your systems. Email is not the most efficient way to collaborate on a project, share files, build strategies, find meeting times, and on and on and on. If your inbox is full of these topics, that is a sign that your systems are not working for you. This is where I can help. My group program, Thyme Transformation, will teach you my simple, 4-part framework for building strong systems for Projects, Scheduling, Research, and Execution. Get on the waitlist for the next session here.
Now you’re ready to start implementing, so try picking your favorite tip from the list above and implement it right now. Then, come back tomorrow and implement another one. Repeat until you feel like your email has returned to a manageable level. If you want my tips + tricks in your inbox every Friday afternoon, be sure to subscribe to The Weekly Page.
Want to learn more about sustainable productivity? Consider jumping on the waitlist for my group course, Thyme Transformation! If you’re looking for an online course that will teach you how to set up strong, reliable digital systems that keep you organized, focused, and motivated— this is for you! The next session begins on November 28th, 2022. You can learn more and get on the waitlist by clicking here, and I’ll reach out to let you know when registration opens. Plus, you’ll get instant access to my best-selling Habit Tracker as soon as you join the list!