Email can be one of the biggest distractions, especially for a slightly older generation like me. You know, the generation that is not hooked to dozens of different chatting apps that are slowly ousting email. If you prefer email to chatting apps, you probably refresh your email client hundreds of times per day.
And if you have an email client always opened when you’re behind your computer, it can be a devastating thing for your productivity. But first things first.
Email can be real work. If you, for example, work in software support or you are a journalist or your job is to send out newsletters, then email is obviously your main working tool. In such a case, most of the following email management tips won’t apply to you.
Thus, the first step you need to do is to answer the following question to yourself as honestly as possible – is email your main value creation and delivery tool or not? If not, you must absolutely read the rest of the article.
Why is e-mail so addictive?
There are three main psychological reasons why e-mail is so addictive. First of all, email gives you a fake feeling of being connected to the world. People write to you, you write to others, and that gives you a sense of connection. It gives you a feeling of security and social proof – you know, all these people have you in mind and drop you emails.
The second reason why email is so addictive is that it gives you a fake feeling of progress, urgency and importance. You know, you can always show your boss all the emails you answered. It gives you the feeling that you’re productive, that you’re moving forward.
Connected and productive, how awesome. But in reality, if email is not your main value creation tool, you’re not really being productive. You’re only avoiding real work.
The third reason why you’re constantly dragged towards your email client is the anticipation of what will pop up in your email inbox. It’s like the lottery or a slot machine. The next time you refresh your email client, it might be an invitation to a date, a job offer, a spam email, an email from your friend, who knows.
Anticipation is addictive, and that’s why email and news sites can quickly hook anyone. Simply because you never know what will show up, and that gives you a sense of excitement and an adrenaline rush.
These are the three main reasons why email is so addictive. You feel connected to the world, answering emails is an easy job to do and consequently you get a fake feeling of progress, and lastly, refreshing your email client thrills you because you don’t know what to expect.
But reality is much different than it might seem. In reality, you’re not really connected to people. Emails only give you a sense of connection. Communication by email and messaging apps doesn’t really mean you’re deeply connected to people. Communicating online does not equal real connections. Online communication must be just an add-on to in-person communication.
Then if email is not your core value creation tool, it’s not real work. It’s a low‑value task that only gives you a sense of progress. A fake feeling of progress. Last but not least, I’m sure there are many more interesting activities than email for getting a thrill in life from. I’m sure we can all agree on that.
Email management 101 – how to properly manage your email
The first rule of email management. If you want to receive fewer emails, send fewer emails. For every email that you send out, you usually get a reply, and then you write a reply back, and so on and so forth. Every email that you send triggers a chain of new emails. Thus, never send an email unless it’s really necessary.
The second rule of email management. Answer every email as shortly as possible. If not possible in one word, reply to it in one sentence. If not in one, try to do it in two or maximum three sentences. And never write email essays. Those are for blog posts or books or your personal journal.
Every single time, before you start replying to an email, ask yourself – How can I reply in the shortest way possible?
You might receive many emails to which you reply in a very standardized and similar way – for example, writing recommendations, directions, explanations, redirections and so on. For these emails, use email templates. Most email clients have the functionality to prepare yourself a general template and then only fill in the blanks.
An especially useful template is a “not interested” email for all the people who write to you with collaboration proposals that aren’t really aligned with your goals. By having such a template prepared, you don’t have to deal with the pressure of writing a rejection, you simply just select the template and click send.
And the best recommendation for email is: don’t open an email client first thing in the morning or as the first thing you do when you come into your office. Email is basically the to-do list of other people. You want to be working on your own to-do list, on the most important tasks of the day, not other people’s goals.
Instead schedule 30 minutes for email, just before your working day ends, and try to reply to all the emails in one fast sprint. Ready, set, go!
Email is basically the to-do list of other people.
If you think it’s hard to spend a maximum of 30 minutes on email per day or even less, it’s really not. First make sure you’re unsubscribed from all the newsletters, forums, promotions and the junk you actually don’t read and only save for later. That should clear out half of your emails.
Then, when you open your email client, first delete or mark as spam all the crap that’s left. For the tasks you can delegate, just forward the emails to your team members, without any long explanations.
Finally, reply to the rest of the emails in the shortest way possible or with a template. And if there is a task in an email connected to a real‑value activity, put it on your to-do list. Even if you get 100 plus emails per day, you can handle all of them in 30 minutes or less with such an approach.
The last tip for managing emails is how to organize your email client. First, make sure all emails come into one inbox, even if you have several email accounts. That can be easily achieved with forwards, redirects, and reducing the number of emails you use.
Here is one more interesting point. After analyzing the most productive people, I have seen two extremes in how they handle inbox. The first approach is called Inbox zero. You open your email client once or twice per day, and you try to get to zero as fast as possible.
Unsubscribe, delete, delegate, reply in one word, reply in one sentence, put on to-do list. Done. One email by one, without leaving any of them for a later reply. In the end, your inbox is empty, and your mind is clear.
The second approach I often witness are people who keep everything in one inbox. These are the people who don’t mind having thousands of emails in their inbox, the majority of them even unopened. They simply open the email client and click reply on the very few emails that really matter. The rest, they simply ignore.
Well, I’m definitely the zero-inbox policy guy. What about you?
PS: Would you like to learn more? Read my superior guide to email management.