Would you like a simple way to dramatically cut the time you spend on emails?
According to a survey conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute, office workers spend 2.6 hours per day reading and answering emails. This equates to 33% of a 40-hour workweek.
What’s worse is that smartphones, laptops, and other mobile devices have many checking their email constantly: while commuting (yes, I see you checking your phone while driving), waiting at the doctor’s office, at mealtimes, and every other situation imaginable.
But is there a better way to manage your email? Over the years, I’ve found out that the key to mastering email (instead of letting email master you) is to have a system.
Ergo, seven steps to master your email:
1. Unsubscribe from email newsletters.
Do you really need to subscribe to all those fashion websites? Those flash deals-of-the-day offers? Those viral clickbait “news” headlines? Don’t give permission to all those companies to intrude on your day, to interrupt your flow, and to tempt you with their offers. They’re trying hard to get into your head, but they can’t if they’re not in your inbox to begin with.
Just go into your email and search for “unsubscribe” and then unsubscribe from all the email newsletters that you find. There’s also a great website called Unroll.Me that will let you easily unsubscribe from the newsletters you want to trash. It will then consolidate the newsletters you want to keep into one big daily email.
2. Turn off all email notifications.
Email is not intended to be an urgent form of communication. Nowadays, when most of us are getting 50 to 500 emails a day, getting email notifications is a sin. Notifications interrupt your concentration, your work sprints, and your ability to be present during meetings and conversations.
Whatever notifications you’re using, whether an audible ding, a phone vibration, or a little window that pops up with every new email–turn it off.
3. Think twice before you forward, cc or bcc.
As reported in an August 9, 2013, article in the Wall Street Journal, London-based International Power reduced total email traffic by 54% just by encouraging their top executives to “think twice” before they forwarded an email or added anyone to the cc: line. Too often we forward or cc someone in the spirit of keeping them “in the loop,” but in reality we are contributing to the information overload problem.
Remember, every email you send and every cc you include means you are likely going to get a reply back into your own email box. If you send less email, you’ll also receive less email.
4. Use the subject line to indicate the action required.
An ideal subject line doesn’t just indicate the subject of the email, but also the type of action it requires. This helps email recipients to process your email in less time. And they’ll learn to reciprocate. The idea is to preface your subject line message with some meta-information. I like to use all caps to make this part of the subject stand out from the message. Here are some examples:
“FYI: [subject]”—Use the FYI designation when you are just passing info along as a courtesy.
“ACTION REQUIRED by [DATE]: [subject]” or “TO DO by [DATE]”—Use ACTION REQUIRED when your recipients should take an action, but they don’t report to you; use TO DO when you are giving a directive to someone who reports to you.
“NRN: [subject]”—NRN stands for “no response needed” and can be used to eliminate the polite response emails that people often send like “Thanks” or “Looks interesting” or “I’ll take a look at this next week,” etc.
“[subject]–EOM”—My personal favorite, EOM stands for “end of message” and lets you put super short messages right in the subject line. EOM tells the recipient, don’t bother opening this one because all the content is in the subject line.
5. Keep emails short—really short.
Realize that being brief isn’t rude; it’s a sign of respect for the other person’s time (in addition to your own).
There is even a movement that suggests we consider email messages to be similar to text messages. The website five.sentenc.es suggests you limit all your emails to five sentences or fewer and then add a footer message that directs people to the website for an explanation.
6. Use the 321-Zero system.
I’m a firm believer that you should only process email three times a day.
Schedule three times to process your email (morning, noon, night), set the timer on your phone for 21 minutes, and try to get to inbox zero in that time. Make a game out of it—21 minutes is typically not enough time to get to zero, and that’s intentional. But this goal will keep you focused, ensure that your responses are short, and keep you from clicking links out onto the wonderful world of internet distractions.
7. Immediately apply the 4 D’s.
Every time you open an email, you should be ready to Delete it (archive), Delegate it (forward), Defer it (move to your calendar), or Do it.
• Delete: When you think “delete,” in most cases you should really just archive. These days, with virtually unlimited storage space, it’s easy to just hit the Archive button on most things, knowing that you can use the search function to get it back again in the future.
• Delegate: If someone else should be handling this, forward it immediately.
• Defer: If you defer an email, in most cases that means immediately adding an entry to your calendar—“moving” the email to a calendar entry.
• Do: If you can handle this in five minutes or less, do it right away.
After each of first three actions, either archive the email or delete it.
In addition to the 4 D’s, consider F for File it. In my opinion, this is just another form of archiving, but it can be helpful especially if you’re nervous that you might not be able to find something again. Just create folders for all your projects, clients, or even something like “Respond to Someday,” and then drag emails related to those topics into the folders to keep your inbox nice and clean.
There they are—seven simple steps to master your email. Try using these to keep your email under control, and you’ll suddenly discover hours per week that you didn’t know you had.
Kevin Kruse is the author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management and “The Millionaire Day Planner: A Free 1-Page Planning Tool.”