Email is stressing me out.
I live in my inbox, as most of us do, and my time spent reading, thinking about, and responding to emails is constantly going up. I've received 47,188 total emails since creating my Gmail account in November 2005. That means I've received, on average, 12-13 emails a day over that span. But that number has grown tremendously in recent years, especially since I started working out of Gmail in 2012. For instance, I received 130 emails yesterday, which is pretty typical for me during the work week. With so much of my time devoted to my inbox, email productivity is crucial.
I'm always looking for any new practice or tool to help me be more productive. I've tried many different things, and I've found there are really only three things you can do to make yourself more productive in the inbox. Read on to learn these three tips along with some tools to help you action them.
1 - Prioritize your email
Prioritizing means scanning and filtering your email and responding only to the most critical messages first. Email volume will be your biggest barrier here. According to the Radicati Group, the average U.S. consumer receives 76 legit (non-spammy) emails per day. So when we sit down to take care of email it's easy to get distracted by unimportant messages. You need to be able to address only the most important messages, while ignoring everything else.
Historically, I've done the best I can to ignore less important emails but the perfectionist in me wants to read or respond to everything immediately. What can I say? I believe in Inbox Zero. But that attitude is a barrier to email productivity.
One free tool that can really help is Throttle. Throttle is a browser extension that lets you sign up for anything online without using your email address. It gets less important (but necessary) email out of your inbox, then wraps it into a daily digest email that gets delivered at a time you specify.
I DON'T use Throttle to collect spammy content I don't want. I'll never have time for unnecessary email and just unsubscribe from those (more on that below). I DO use Throttle every time I sign up for something I actually want but don't need to see in my inbox every day. I like to save my inbox for just the most critical email. Here's a quick list of emails that I now have Throttle handling for me:
- Online banking correspondence
- RSS feeds from blogs I follow
- Notifications from social platforms like Facebook and Twitter
- Product-related emails from services like MailChimp or Mint.com
The amazing outcome is that my inbox has immediately become leaner and more productive. This is because I only hand out my actual email address to the most important people, like work colleagues or family members. Throttle handles everything else for me. It's like having a separate inbox that I can check less frequently, and my email productivity has increased as a result.
While you might be able to achieve something close to this using email filters or labels, Throttle also brings another very important benefit to the table - security. Throttle creates a unique email address every time you subscribe to something online. So if you don't want to receive email from a sender anymore, you just click one button to revoke that address. Throttle monitors your account and lets you know if someone sells your email address.
2 - Spend less time checking and responding to email
I realize this one sounds a bit silly. "Want to be more productive with email? Just don't check it as much!" However, between laptops, smartphones, and tablets we're basically plugged in all day...sometimes all night too. Checking email throughout the day is inefficient and distracts us from getting other things done. Here's how productivity expert Tim Ferriss puts it:
"Email eats so much time. First, because it's everyone else's agenda for your time, often including manufactured emergencies. Second, email allows you to fool yourself into thinking you're being productive."
With that in mind, the less time you spend in email the better. Most experts recommend budgeting specific blocks of time for checking email. For instance, I find mornings to be my most productive time and usually wait to read and respond to email until after 3:00pm.
If you find that you're lacking the necessary self-discipline to keep out of the inbox, try using an app like RescueTime. RescueTime is an app that gives you feedback on how you spend your time online. It tracks the time you spend on various apps and websites and allows you to set limits or block specific websites for periods of time.
Regardless of how you do it, this is a no-brainer. In fact, making yourself spend less time in your inbox also provides a forcing factor for both prioritizing email and reducing email volume. With less time to focus on checking your inbox, you'll need to do both of those things to achieve greater email productivity.
3 - Unsubscribe from unnecessary email
Email volumes are growing consistently over time. The Radicati Group reports that over 205BB emails were sent/received each day in 2015, and that number is expected to grow over the next several years. As we all know from personal experience, a good chunk of that email volume is completely unnecessary, and we feel the pain. Jay Baer recently shared that 21% of email recipients report email as Spam, even if they know it isn't and that 17% of Americans create a new email address every 6 months.
One of the simplest and best things you can do to increase your email productivity is to unsubscribe from any email subscription that you don't want or need. I usually budget time once a month to do this. It doesn't take long and makes my life so much better and easier.
Unroll.me is a handy service that helps you unsubscribe from unwanted email subscriptions. They can save you the time of having to click an unsubscribe link and follow whatever ridiculous steps the sender forces you to go through. However, they do have limits and can't always unsubscribe you. If that happens they simply move the unwanted email into a separate folder to get it out of your inbox, with all future messages from that sender going to the same spot.
NOTE: If you are using Throttle (mentioned above) then you can simply unsubscribe by clicking one button to "revoke" the subscription. It's pretty nifty. :)
Conclusion - Email productivity is attainable
Getting more efficient with email is incredibly necessary. According to a 2015 survey from Adobe, the average U.S. worker spends 6.3 hours per day on email, with that time being split pretty evenly between work and personal messages. Yikes!
It's possible for email to be the sharp and efficient tool you want it to be. It just takes a little bit of time investment and the right tools. If you have any email productivity tips or tools of your own, drop a comment below and let me know!