Email is an essential business communication tool. But it can be overwhelming, especially for professionals managing large workloads and communications with lots of different contacts.
The answer is email management; the hacks and best practices used by people who get tons of emails but still manage to do their jobs effectively. This guide spells out the many things you can do to manage your email better. But first, how much of a challenge does email management need to address?
5 eye-watering email management stats
Here are a few arresting statistics that show the scale of the problem better email management seeks to solve:
Reasons why good email management is important
Getting a firm grip of your email inbox should feel like the right thing to do, but it’s worth asking why. Here are the top 5 reasons we think solid email management practice should be a priority for everyone.
Improves personal wellbeing
Work is demanding and many feel constant pressure to perform and put in the hours. That would be hard enough without swathes of email correspondence eating up time and causing distractions.
Email can also encroach upon personal time and space that individuals should be having away from work. It’s the curse of being responsible and available – feeling duty-bound to check email pretty much as soon as you receive it, respond appropriately, and generally keep all those plates spinning.
Email management is important because it can equip people to prioritize their well-being, reduce stress, carve out a happier work environment and protect their home life.
Makes you a more effective manager
Email management is just that – a way to manage resources and processes. There are only so many hours in the day but you’re still expected to perform. By managing email better, you’re opening up more time to be a more effective manager of your own time, as well as the other aspects of your role.
Delivers a better customer experience
Whether it’s external or internal customers, email is a primary means of communicating with them. But when there’s too much email volume or complexity to deal with, customers can get let down and feel they aren’t being heard.
Email management can have a transformative effect on your ability to respond and interact with customers; addressing queries, escalating issues, and keeping them informed. This adds up to a great customer experience and potentially enhanced loyalty – something that’s under threat if excessive email is getting in your way.
Promotes better team collaboration with colleagues
As well as making you a better manager, email management naturally makes you a more effective communicator. This is especially true when it comes to communicating and collaborating with teammates.
Good email management practices provide the necessary conditions for running lean, agile team processes powered by effective communications.
Boosts efficiency and productivity
When you’re struggling with email overload and finding it hard to meet people’s expectations for getting back to them, email management can help make processes more efficient and productive.
Grasping this will prevent organizations from hiring extra staff to handle email overheads, saving money and increasing profitability without compromising service levels.
Email management best practices
Getting to grips with email management best practice involves a commitment to 3 key principles. Hanging off each of these principles is a set of specific best practices you can apply to claw back time into your day.
The 3 principles of email management best practice are:
Reduce the number of emails you have to manage
Change your mindset to address the email management challenge
Get better organized with processes and tools
Reducing the amount of email
The first set of email management best practices is the most pragmatic. This is all about taking your existing volume of email and paring it back to its minimum possible amount. By doing this you can:
Examples of best practice for targeting a reduction in overall email volume
Some of the things you can do to reduce email volume include the following:
Unsubscribing from unnecessary mailing lists
Often, it’s the extreme frequency of marketing or news-driven emails that provokes people to unsubscribe, but email management best practice is to consider all the lists you’re on and make a conscious decision about which ones to stick with.
Always remember that unsubscribing from email lists is time well spent and should be a no-brainer when you’re receiving emails you don’t want or need.
Minimizing the email notifications you receive
The average worker gets more than 120 emails a day, but not all of these are critical correspondence. A good proportion will be notifications that emanate from a variety of places, e.g. edits or comments embedded in shared documents, milestones in workflows tracked by software platforms, etc. Many will be social media email notifications.
Set an objective to reduce these notifications to the absolute minimum. A good approach is to change alert preferences so you receive a daily or weekly roll-up of highlights rather than individual, real-time notifications every time something happens.
Regularly reviewing group email memberships
Email groups are incredibly useful for inbound email, a good example being a help desk situation where various staff members can see all emails sent to “[email protected]”.
The inevitable problem is when the makeup of teams change, individuals move on and yet these group email memberships remain as a legacy. If you suspect you’re seeing emails you shouldn’t then get yourself removed from those groups, and review membership status of all the others every few months.
Regularly archiving old emails
Another good tip for keeping your inbox to a manageable size is regularly archiving the oldest. This also helps organizations secure the integrity of email correspondence that may be important to store for compliance purposes.
Using your work email only for work
Are all of the emails you need to cut through related to work? If not – and you’re using your work email as the main ID or point of contact for online shopping, utility bills, and personal correspondence – then you’ll get a ton more emails and it will be harder to stay focused on work priorities.
Offloading chatter to more appropriate comms channels
Real-time platforms like Slack, Yammer, and Teams offer alternative channels for certain types of business communication. This is especially true of internal office chitchat and other messages that, although superficial, are part of the fabric of your company. By using other platforms for certain types of messages, you stop email volumes from getting any larger.
Using your out of office assistant
Switching on your autoresponder to notify people when you’re out of the office (or on PTO) is a sure-fire way to reduce email inflows. You’ll still face a mountain of unread correspondence when you return, but it will be minimized when people know you aren’t there.
Examples of best practice for adopting an email management mindset
Getting the right perspective on email management is important so that you can open your mind up to thinking about the challenge in new ways. You can do that through the following:
Turning down the email noise
Most people have their email client open at all times. On top of this, they allow helpful reminders to flash up on the screen every time a new message arrives. All this can be incredibly distracting and it’s only a matter of time until something catches your eye and you’re suddenly embarked on minutes or possibly hours of activity you never planned into your day.
Reduce the risks of that happening by having fewer visual alerts and audible alarms in your line of sight. Consider muting notifications on your mobile devices at certain times so you can get away from work when you’re at home too.
Being bolder with the delete key
Most people can be a lot more ruthless with deleting emails. Email inboxes can become like garages at home – full of stuff you don’t throw out because you might need it one day. But this mentality is borderline hoarding.
Think in terms of qualifying-in emails you need to keep (and deleting the rest) rather than qualifying-out emails you need to get rid of (and keep the rest). This is a healthier mindset that encourages you to respect your own time and boundaries.
You might also be encouraged to trash more emails if your corporate email policy is one that saves emails somewhere even when you delete them from your mailbox.
Not replying to every single email
A really important mindset shift is accepting that not every email warrants a response. Otherwise, you’re a hostage to writing as many emails as you receive, and that can be extremely disruptive not to mention unnecessary.
Examples of best practice for getting organized with email management processes and tools
Processes and tools help a lot with email management best practice. Process-wise, it’s a case of adopting some simple disciplines. And in terms of tools, many are free, low-cost, or already integrated into your existing email platform. Here are some things you can do:
Set fixed times for looking at email
The best way to avoid being pushed around by your own email system is by scheduling short time slots where you focus exclusively on the latest messages in your inbox. This means that you can leave it alone at all other times and get on with the planned activity.
This approach may sound a little scary as there’s a chance something urgent may arrive that you won’t see until the next slot. In reality, unless your sole job is to monitor an email inbox, you will often go to meetings or be unavailable for hours at a time; the upshot here is the same! By calendarizing email management timeslots, you’re effectively setting appointments to spend time ‘meeting with your inbox’. You’ll be amazed at what you can get done in these focused sessions and how much extra focus you can put into other duties now you’re no longer distracted.
Automate your email filing system
With a hefty inbox, you need to bring some structure and order to things.
Set rules for routing certain emails into certain folders so you can group your work activity into manageable chunks. This saves you the time and hassle of manually sorting through everything and potentially making mistakes. Outlook, Gmail, and other platforms have lots of in-built functionality like labels, tags, filters, and priorities so make good use of them and develop a system that works for you.
One note of caution: be careful not to spend so much time filing emails into folders that you become a slave to them. Recognize that this is self-defeating and so find the right balance.
Employ email shorthand
We all use truncated words or letter codes to express ourselves in written comms. This is most common in IM, chat, and social media where the medium is 100% real-time, there are limitations on text space and the exchanges are generally informal. But there are numerous examples of initialisms, acronyms, and abbreviations that are common in email too, and which can save time.
One of the most useful from an email management perspective is NRN (no reply necessary), which prevents the unnecessary continuation of extra email correspondence cycles.
Harness third-party tools
Here are just a few of the types of tools you can use for email management:
Email signature manager
Tools like Exclaimer remove the overhead of managing email signatures so that these always contain the correct information, present a consistent brand across organizations and enable optimum marketing and interaction opportunities.
Tools like Clean Email allow you to see all the lists you’re subscribed to in one place, making it easier to unsubscribe, pause or block them.
Tools like Sortd elevate email inboxes into project workspaces you can share with colleagues and teams.
Tools like HelpScout eliminate duplicate replies being sent from members of the same team, saving time and increasing efficiency.
Tools like SaneBox use artificial intelligence to ‘learn’ your email habits and automatically sorts emails into folders and worklists so you don’t have to.
Tools like EmailAnalytics visualize email data so you can chart your email management performance.
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