Each day, we’re given 24 hours…1,440 minutes…86,400 seconds to do whatever we want. We can work, sleep, eat, and exercise. We can start new tasks, finish old projects, or put off the dreaded ones. It’s our own blank canvas just waiting to be filled with an endless possibility of adventures.
And then we open our email inbox.
Soon, that panoramic vision of unlimited opportunity looks more like a pinhole view of unattainable tasks. Those 24 hours get quickly compacted down to just a few, small windows of time in which to compress, pack and squeeze in as many to-dos as possible.
Time’s the great escape artist, and email’s his greatest stage.
According to McKinsey & Company, we spend 28 percent of our workday in email. If you work eight hours, then that’s nearly 2.5 hours spent roaming through your inbox—opening emails, replying to threads, deleting junk, watching cat videos from mom, etc. It can be a waste, very defeating, and stressful.
It’s time we start reclaiming those lost hours in the day. Here are five ways to better use your time spent inside your email inbox—in the morning and throughout your day:
1. Process Emails As You Open Them
Oftentimes, we like to take a first pass through emails, only to return and reread them later in the day. Cut that time in half by answering your emails right away. It’s there, right in front of you, and you’re most likely already focused on the subject matter. Don’t put it off. Respond immediately and then archive or delete them—particularly for those quick-turn replies. And for those emails that require more time, action or forethought, compose a first draft and create a task to finish responding later.
2. Answer Email in Batches
It’s easy to get distracted by the “squirrels” that run across our path. Rather than responding to each email as it comes in, set aside blocks of time to manage your inbox. Schedule it on your calendar, if that works best. Also, consider turning off email notifications, so that they’re not incessantly popping up on your screen or phone. By scheduling time and limiting the distractions, you’ll be able to better focus on work, family, friends, downtime, or whatever it is that needs your attention.
3. Keep the Conversations Clear and Simple
Don’t treat each email reply like a term paper that needs an intriguing intro, three takeaways, and a strong conclusion. Instead, keep your emails as brief as possible. If your reply can sufficiently be said in one sentence or one word, then limit your answer to that. And use bullets whenever possible to reduce the amount of body content and enhance the layout of details. One caveat, though, about being brief in your replies: make sure you properly convey your tone in the reply. For example, the reply “yes.” can be perceived much differently than “Yes!!”. It’s the same word, and yet it carries a completely different tone because of the capitalization and punctuation. As with all writing, consider your audience and make sure your tone meets their needs.
4. Use Follow-up Templates
There are times when you find yourself replying to an email with virtually the same response as you’ve used in past emails. Save time by creating and saving a canned response. Then, when you receive these emails in your inbox, pull up the email template and spend only limited time modifying the details for clarity.
5. Know When to Ditch Email
Email does a great job of tracking a conversation’s history. Pull up any email thread and you can quickly see an extensive dialogue—going years and years back. However, there are many times when other mediums would better expedite the communication process. Find more time in your day by ditching emails altogether and identifying those interactions better suited for a phone call or in-person meeting.