Most of us wish we spent less time on email. By some estimates, the average American worker spends 4.1 hours a day checking and replying to work emails. Imagine if you had that time to do literally anything else—you could instantly boost your productivity by 50 percent or more, or have more time to enjoy your family, or your favorite hobbies!
Unfortunately, email is still a practical necessity for work, so you can’t get rid of it entirely, but you can take measures to improve your efficiency—and ultimately reduce the hours you spend on this ubiquitous communication platform.
Phase 1: Evaluate Your Habits
The first step is determining where your biggest problems lie. Nobody emails with perfect efficiency, and chances are, there are at least a few bad habits that have creeped into your email management approach.
The best way to gauge your email habits is with an email analytics tool, which can tell you how many emails you send and receive, when you send and receive them, how long you spend writing and reading emails, and tons of other metrics. With it, you should be able to pinpoint a handful of key areas that waste unnecessary time—and come up with a way to address them.
Phase 2: Check Your Email Less Often
No matter what your email analytics look like, I’ll bet you’re checking your email too often. The average person checks their work email about 15 times a day—and you probably have an email window open constantly on your computer.
Yes, this keeps you connected, and ensures you get alerted when new information comes in, but this also serves as a distraction. Every time you hear a notification, you’re pulled away from what you’re working on, resulting in delays, stress, and wasted time.
Instead, work on pulling yourself away from your email account. Establish “heads-down” periods in your workday when you don’t pay attention to email at all, and disconnect from the internet entirely if you have to. Then, make sure your phone doesn’t automatically update your inboxes, and start resisting the temptation to check your email late at night or when you’re enjoying yourself with the family.
Phase 3: Improve Efficiency on Individual Tasks
Checking email less often can instantly shave hours off your email time. From there, you’ll need to work on the individual tasks that eat away at your productivity. If you use Gmail, there are numerous Gmail plugins and Gmail extensions available that help with productivity and efficiency.
Depending on your individual habits, these are just some of the ways you could improve:
- Write faster and more concisely. If you find yourself writing sprawling paragraphs of text, try to put your ideas more concisely. It will save you time writing emails, and save your coworkers time reading them.
- Stay organized. Come up with a system to organize your inbox, and stick with it. Gmail comes with a system of stars, markers, and labels that should make it easy—and help you find the emails you need in record time. The trick is to apply this system consistently to all your new emails.
- Keep conversation threads short. Conversation threads can quickly spiral out of control, sending you notifications long after the thread has lost relevance. Learn to keep these conversations short and sweet, and mute them if they go on too long.
Even in strict settings, it’s entirely within your power to improve your email habits, and ultimately reduce the number of hours you spend emailing. It requires introspection, evaluation, and an ongoing commitment to create new habits, but at the end of the tunnel, you’ll have several hours of additional free time that you can use for more important tasks.