The 7 Best Kept Secrets for Email Productivity

Email Productivity


“Email produc­ti­vity” – to some this may sound like an oxymoron or an office myth. People often complain about messages that have been “swal­lowed up” by their inboxes, and instead of using built-in email produc­ti­vity features to find said message, they ask the sender to resend it, further adding to the land­fill of unpro­duc­tive time wastage. Where did this problem origi­nate from? Can email still be used as a produc­tive tool in today’s modern busi­ness land­scape, and if so what can we do to improve email productivity?

Accor­ding to McKinsey Global Institute’s Michael Chui, the average employee spends 28% of their work­week reading and answe­ring emails. Another 20% of time is spent looking for internal infor­ma­tion, or trying to locate the best person to handle a specific task or issue. Chui proposes that compa­nies instead opt for social tech­no­logy to be used intern­ally, as it produces a searchable record of know­ledge, which can reduce the time employees spend sear­ching for internal data by up to 35% and at the same time improve colla­bo­ra­tion. In the report, Chui and his rese­arch part­ners clarify that social tech­no­logy is not a plat­form, but rather a func­tion that allows inter­ac­tion, colla­bo­ra­tion and content management.

An example of social tech­no­logy would be the company’s employee portal or intranet, which is successfully used in many orga­ni­sa­tions today. Such a tool provides access to employees who need tools, infor­ma­tion, know­ledge and exper­tise when­ever, wherever. A study conducted by the Inter­na­tional Asso­cia­tion for Human Resource Infor­ma­tion Manage­ment (IHRIM) found that 75% of compa­nies who use employee portals deemed it mission-critical. Instead of having to bounce emails around to various team members, employees can simply consult cowor­kers via the intranet and obtain an answer right away. As a result, internal email commu­ni­ca­tion can be reduced, clients’ ques­tions can be answered right away and tasks can be moved from pending to complete in less time.

Email Productivity after Work Hours?

Professor of orga­ni­sa­tional psycho­logy and health at Lancaster Univer­sity, Sir Cary Cooper is concerned about the epidemic created by workers’ compul­sion to check work email after hours. He recom­mends that internal email be limited in favour of phone calls and face-to-face meetings. While he does not encou­rage IT depart­ments to shut down employers’ servers outside of office hours, he said that if emai­ling is impac­ting nega­tively on employees, it might well be neces­sary to employ such drastic measures in non-time critical environments.

Now, let’s be honest, we all do work outside of office hours some­times, and by prohi­bi­ting that would take away the flexi­bi­lity that tech­no­logy brings to the modern work­place. One of the main bene­fits of tech­no­logy is that it enables people to connect to other people and resources instantly. Some­times, time is of the essence and we have to strike while the iron is hot and that requires checking emails outside of office hours. Checking your email while commu­ting to and from work can be quite produc­tive as it enables you to send quick replies to anything urgent, remove any junk, orga­nize emails into folders, etc. It can free up time for when you sit down at your desk.

Businesswoman iPhone

Further­more, many of us receive dozens or hundreds of emails per day! Not checking your email does not make them disap­pear. Instead, imple­men­ting email produc­ti­vity measures can help limit the amount of time spent on unpro­duc­tive communication.

Communication Alternatives to Email

All busi­nesses are in favour of effi­ci­ency and best busi­ness prac­tices. For most, it is an abso­lute neces­sity and a daily part of work to commu­ni­cate via email, espe­ci­ally when colla­bo­ra­ting with clients, service provi­ders, and remote workers in diffe­rent time zones. But there are alter­na­tives to email. At Mikogo, we are all for colla­bo­ra­ting toge­ther in real-time via screen sharing meetings to save long email threads going back and forth, and instead meet virtually and get to the point quickly while redu­cing confu­sion. It’s part of our daily work. When written commu­ni­ca­tion is crucial, we rely heavily on our project manage­ment system, JIRA. If such a system seems like over­kill for your needs, there are many great social colla­bo­ra­tion tools, such as Asanaor Freed­camp, to help teams commu­ni­cate more effi­ci­ently than by email.

7 Email Productivity Best Practices

You can defi­ni­tely move a lot of commu­ni­ca­tions to such project manage­ment or social colla­bo­ra­tion tools. However email still plays a major role in your daily work and will do so for the fore­seeable future. The task at hand now is how to best manage it. Employing email produc­ti­vity can help reduce the amount of time spent on unneces­s­a­rily long feeds, multiple back and forth emails, emails you don’t want to read at all, emails you want to read but not right now, etc.

Here are the seven best tips we have found for email produc­ti­vityalong with tools to help auto­mate the process:

1. Unsubscribe from anything that doesn’t offer value

These days, it seems neces­sary to subscribe to almost ever­y­thing before you can access the infor­ma­tion you need. That often means that you’re hooked into constant emails about a topic you only wanted to rese­arch once-off. If after a while you decide that an email list does not offer signi­fi­cant value to your busi­ness, hit “unsub­scribe”.

Recom­mended Tool: Spen­ding valuable time every day, dili­gently unsub­scribing from several lists and not seeing a signi­fi­cant decrease? Go to https://unroll.me/ to see a complete list of all the emails you are subscribed to, allo­wing easy editing of your preferences.

2. Prevent Inbox Overwhelm

Of course, there are times when you subscribe to lists because they provide valuable infor­ma­tion about some­thing you’d like to get to, one day. But in the mean­time, those emails are adding to your inbox over­flowing with unread emails. One way to deal with this problem, is to add email filters – learn how to do that here.

Recom­mended Tool: Gmail users have auto­ma­ti­cally built-in Prio­rity, Social and Promo­tions inboxes in which all inco­ming mail is sorted, but if you don’t use Gmail, give Sanebox a try. Sanebox will deter­mine which emails are important, and which not, based on your past and current email acti­vity. Less important emails will go to your @SaneLater folder for future refe­rence, when you have the time to look at it.

3. Send short and on topic responses to the right people

Instead of lengthy, chatty responses, keep it short and stick to the topic at hand. Focus on the critical facts and the action you want the reader to take. At the same time, though, anti­ci­pate further ques­tions that your response might evoke in the reader, and answer them. For instance, if the inquiry is about a product you’re selling, and the available colors, your answer should include that it comes in blue, red and green. In addi­tion, include the fact that the red is on special order, and will ther­e­fore take a week longer to produce, at an addi­tional cost. By anti­ci­pa­ting further ques­tions, you can limit the amount of emails to and from the poten­tial client.

And don’t reply-all or add ever­yone to the email just for the sake of it. Accor­ding to mycareertopia.com, the biggest pet peeve for people when recei­ving emails is “too many reply-alls.” Think about who really needs to be involved before you click send.

Recom­mended Tool: Do you find yourself constantly rety­ping the same infor­ma­tion in response to inqui­ries? Mac has a tool known as Text Expander (Phra­se­Ex­press for Windows users) which allows you to set up canned responses, which are inserted into your emails via shortcode.

Businessman Laptop on the Phone

4. Stop forgetting to send attachments!

One of the most time consuming aspects of email, is forget­ting to include attach­ments. Even if you remember it five minutes later and resend the email, the reci­pient may already have responded “no attach­ment” to which you need to reply “I sent it again. Did you get it?”.

Recom­mended Tool: Outlook comes with a built-in reminder service if you are fort­u­nate enough to mention in your email text that there should be an attach­ment. But if this doesn’t cover all occa­sions, you can use the Outlook attach­ment reminder macro or the Gmail Attach­ment Reminder Grease­m­onkey script.

5. Make productive use of your subject lines

One of the biggest time wasters when it comes to email produc­ti­vity, is the fact that many people don’t bother with proper subject lines. A proper subject line not only gives the reci­pient a quick over­view of the content of the email, but it also makes it much easier to find later on. In the same study by mycareertopia.com, 43% of respond­ents blame email for confu­sion and work­place resent­ment. This makes email the worst cause of confu­sion and miscom­mu­ni­ca­tion in the workplace.

Good, rele­vant subject lines depict the main point of an email, for instance:

Instead of “Mikogo“, use “Mikogo compa­ti­bi­lity with Windows 10?
Instead of “July“, use “Finan­cial report for July 2015
Instead of “Hi“, use “Product Inquiry – Mikogo for Small Busi­ness

6. Set a time to respond to emails

In 4‑Hour Work­week, Tim Ferriss recom­mends setting aside time slots to check your email. He has auto­re­spon­ders indi­ca­ting that he will check his busi­ness email every 7–10 days (given, his assistant deals with 90% of his work emails, leaving only those that abso­lutely require his personal atten­tion to him) and his personal email, once a day. While Ferris’ system would seem extreme to you and me, a good prac­tice would be to check email for 30 minutes in the morning, and again 30 minutes before leaving the office. When you are working outside of your email time slots, he recom­mends that you close your email inbox. Simply shut it down so you are not distracted by inco­ming emails which will take your atten­tion away from your current work and break your flow.

Recom­mended Tool: Some­times, you need to send an email at a specific time, knowing that you will receive a better response later. What to do when you need to remind your assistant to do some­thing at a specific time? Boome­rang allows you to sche­dule emails for a specific time using Gmail.

7. Use email to be more productive

If social media is an important element of your job func­tion, you may find yourself inun­dated with noti­fi­ca­tions and the task of trying to manage social connec­tions via email. Add to that the repeated daily visits to all the social media plat­forms, and you have no time for anything else. Some “produc­ti­vity through email” tools include:

  • Nuts­hell­Mail, which gives you an over­view of your social plat­forms in your inbox.
  • Ever­contact, which is a powerful, unique contact-list synchroniser.
  • Xobni, which not only shows a user’s contact details (like Rappor­tive) but also updates your address book.

When it comes to asking a quick ques­tion that requires an imme­diate answer, a quick phone call or an online meeting are the best solu­tions as they eradi­cate confu­sion as well as back-and-forth exch­anges. That being said, email isn’t going anywhere. Do you use any of these or other best prac­tices? Leave a comment below with your email produc­ti­vity tips.

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