Productivity in the Workplace Series: E-mail Productivity Tips

E-mail can be one of the biggest distractions to a modern business.  Yet, e-mail is one of the most effective forms of communication.  Instead of calling 15 people to fill them in on the same thing, one e-mail can be sent to all of them with a single click.  For this reason, e-mail is one of the most popular forms of communication in the modern business.

But it comes at a price.  A price in the form of a loss of productivity.

As I have currently been writing a series on productivity in the workplace, this article will specifically focus on e-mail productivity and how to save time throughout your day with better e-mail management practices.

Why Worry About E-mail Productivity?

Over the years, I have found e-mail to be one of my biggest productivity killers.  Ever.  

Years ago, I started putting together a todo list early in the morning of three to four things I wanted to accomplish for the day.  Three or four things that should take around four hours of my day - if I was able to be productive. But I often found that none of my items would be removed from my list by 5:00 pm and I often would stay late trying to knock at least one or two things off of my list.

Now, it wasn’t that I was lazy or did nothing during my day.  What I found happening was that I was a firefighter throughout the day - meaning that I would put out fire after fire after fire.  At the end of the day, I had worked a lot and accomplished quite a bit for the company.  But, I wasn’t focusing on the tasks which I knew should be the greatest priority for me to accomplish. 

In evaluating why I wasn’t accomplishing what I felt was most important for me to get done, I realized that I was letting distractions derail my focus.  But where were these distractions really coming from? 

My e-mail inbox was the culprit.

The Real Cost of Productivity

As e-mails came in multiple times an hour, I found that I would set aside whatever I was doing to look at the pop-up e-mail notification that would come in during random times during the day.  I justified it as needing to reply in a timely manner.  But at what cost was I willing to do this?  You see, every time I would drop my task at hand and switch to an e-mail, I would not only loose focus of what I was working on, I would have to shift my focus to the problem within the e-mail as well as shift my focus back to the original project.  

As each transition from one project to another takes time, I found that I was loosing significant amounts of productivity in my workplace.  For example, let’s assume that every transition takes three minutes to recover from a transition (I can get into specifics later, but we all know that we have natural, often unintentional, routines during transitions). So, if we receive four e-mails an hour that costs us three minutes per transition, and each e-mail involved two transitions (one to the e-mail and one back to the project), during an eight hour day of working we would have 192 minutes (or 3.2 hours) of transitions during our day.

Fortunately, anyone can increase e-mail productivity by following four simple tips.

Four E-Mail Productivity Tips

The following four tips can significantly increase anyone's e-mail productivity:

E-mail Tip #1: Batch Process E-Mails

When our cloths are dirty at the end of the day, we don’t run a load of laundry for just one outfit.  We wait until we have a whole hamper full and do our laundry in batches.  So why do we reply to e-mails one at a time when they come in to our inbox?

One of the most beneficial hacks I have made in the way I deal with my inbox is to only work on my inbox one or two times a day.  I am not saying that I am perfect on this, but when I want to have a very productive day, this is one trick I know will always increase my productivity.

By working on e-mails in batches, you increase productivity in two ways.  First, you eliminate transition times as you are not jumping from project to e-mail to project.  In addition, you become more productive as you are able to get in “e-mail mode” and continuously plug away until the job is done. I find that I am able to respond to a group of e-mails much quicker than the time it takes me to respond to them one at a time throughout the day.

E-mail Tip #2:  Turn Off Automatic E-Mail Sync

Going right along with batching e-mails, a second tip that has made a huge impact for me was to change my e-mail settings from automatic syncing to manual syncing.  In automatic syncing, e-mails come in almost immediately after the sender pushes them your way.  In this method, you are at the mercy of when the sender “pushes” the e-mail to you.

Alternatively, manual e-mail syncing allows you to “pull” e-mails down from your cue anytime you are ready for them.  Just like a laundry basket getting full of dirty cloths, you can then batch process e-mails together without needed reply immediately.

E-mail Tip #3: Unsubscribe from Unnecessary Senders

I don’t like giving out my e-mail address at all.  In fact, this is something that drives me crazy as I don’t feel many businesses really need to contact me; I know how to get ahold of them when I need to.  But every now and then, I need to give out my e-mail.  For example, my library has my e-mail as they notify me when books I have placed on hold come in or when I have a book that will soon be overdue. 

Occasionally, I will sign up for coupons to be sent to me.  But what happens over time is that 75% of the e-mails that come into my e-mail inbox are not relevant to anything I actually need.  Therefore, the best thing I can do to increase productivity is to unsubscribe from any e-mail that I regularly delete.  You know what these are and you also understand their lack of importance.  Let them go.  You can do it.

E-mail Tip #4: Utilize Folders for Certain Individuals

On the same lines as unsubscribing from unnecessary e-mails, another productivity tip is to establish special folders and create rules for certain senders.  This tip is for those e-mails you really don’t want to unsubscribe from, but you also realize that you rarely actually need anything in the e-mail from this sender.  

To utilize this tip, you must identify the senders that you want to check on periodically, but would never actually send an urgent e-mail requiring immediate attention.  Examples of this could be e-mails from your HR person providing everyones daily schedule or e-mails from a government agency keeping you updated on recent industry trends.

The goal is to have e-mails from these senders automatically go into a special folder (or folders) that you will follow-up with at a later time, rather than allow them to interrupt your day with a non-critical e-mail.


What hacks have been the most beneficial for your e-mail productivity?