Illustrator: Ashley Siebels
The working world runs on emails. A study found that workers sent and received 112.5 billion business emails a day around the world. Even the rise of messaging and group planning platforms like Slack, Gchat and Basecamp has not delayed the rise of work email.
So yes, we must acknowledge that email is superior, but too many of us have let the endless cycle of send, reply, forward take over our lives. A recent Carleton University study found that people spend one-third of their working hours doing emails.
Worse, the researchers found that 30% of the time, the emails being sent or received weren’t urgent. Even so, people answered them quickly and where they stood.
What that means: Employees are not setting boundaries around work and are letting it follow them into their homes. In their survey of 1,500 workers, researchers found that employees would send and receive about 86 emails at work and 25 emails related to work from their homes.
This is no way to live. Reaching inbox zero shouldn’t feel like climbing Everest. Here are tips on how to be more productive with emailing so you’re not wasting 17 hours of your life every week answering an email you never needed to make.
Block off time to disconnect
Model the kind of inbox etiquette you want people to show you. If you don’t want people emailing you at 10 p.m., it helps if you’re not also emailing them at that hour. Block off time in your calendar and remind your colleagues that you’re unavailable during such hours. If you’re working with workaholics who don’t respect your hints, the Muse created email templates on how to convince your colleagues and superiors that you are trying to stay present and why that would be mutually beneficial for everyone.
There are also multiple email scheduling services that will send out emails at the best time for recipients to get them. Use them. No one wants to read a work email after midnight.
Prioritize what needs a response and what doesn’t
Not everything dictates a response. Just because someone emails you, you don’t have to email them.
Prioritize your inbox into what needs an action right away and what can be answered with time, with a conversation, or not all. Clicking on that tab is tempting but interruptions in one task makes it harder for us to return to it. A Gallup study found that when employees are interrupted at work, it takes them about 23 minutes to get back on task.
You’re only hurting yourself by distracting yourself with emails that you know aren’t urgent. Set aside time in your schedule where you’ll just read and answer emails so it won’t take up the rest of your day.
Write your emails so that you only have to send them once
We waste too much time sending follow-up emails as we wait around for people to answer our requests. Make your emails count so you don’t need to repeat them.
Are you including a subject line? That’s the first step. The researchers at MailChimp, an email marketing service, found that clear, descriptive subject lines describing what the email was going to be about had a much higher success rate than just vaguely writing “meeting?”
How you end an email matters too. Boomerang, an email productivity app, analyzed over 350,000 email threads to find out the best email sign-off most likely to guarantee a response when you’re asking for help. “Thanks in advance,” “thanks” and “thank you” had the three-highest response rates.
Meanwhile, “best” had the worst sign-off response rate out of all the closing words used. Expressing your gratitude, even if it may be presumptive, is most likely to engender a response. This goes along with previous research on gratitude which discovered that students were more likely to answer emails asking for cover letter help if the sender included a “thanks” somewhere in it. So, thanks!
Know when email isn’t enough
Above all, recognize that email isn’t everything. The people who don’t let email run their lives understand that it’s just one tool of communication. When it comes to sensitive conversations, face-to-face ensures that there’s less of a chance for misunderstandings. People who are the ultimate pros at emails don’t waste time emailing back and forth when a phone call or a face-to-face conversation would suffice.