As an entrepreneur, you need to know how you can effectively manage your email processing task.
You probably already struggle to effectively manage your email accounts and processing your incoming and outgoing messages through your email client of choice.
I already know that I spent a lot of time reading, sending, and processing emails. But, I never thought about how much time it is as the percentage of my overall working time. Yes, every day, I work on email processing tasks. Sometimes once, but sometimes several times in a day. Whenever I look at how I process my email, I always find some possibility for improvements.
One day, I have decided to analyze my daily habits when it comes to email processing tasks. After one week, I collect the data related to the time I spend on email processing, and the results were really disappointing. I spent more than 20% of my total working time on my email processing task.
How Much Time Do We Spend on Email Processing Task?
Research by the McKinsey Global Institute published in July last year titled “Social Economy” says that the average interaction worker spends an estimated 28 percent of the workweek managing email.
You can agree that it is too much time spending on email processing tasks.
When I look at my account of RescueTime, I can easily see that I spend 4 hours weekly processing emails. That’s 10% of my overall weekly working time. It’s not too much, but still, I think that there can be a place for improvement. So, I need to do something to decrease this time and, in such a way, increase my productivity.
Because of that, I start to implement some improvement activities that we will talk about later in this article. The results from my last week can be seen in the image below. As you can see, I spend around two hours weekly processing emails. That means I get an additional two hours of my time to spend on something else for the company or as my personal time.
Why and How We Use Our Email Inbox?
Before I start with the improvement steps, as a first, I was able to start thinking about the purpose of my email inbox. These are things related to why and how I use my email inbox.
Why I use email inbox?
The first thing that comes to my mind when I ask myself this question is that, in most cases, I use my email as a communication tool. So, the main purpose of my email inbox is to communicate with different people related to my business and personal life. But when I start analyzing my inbox, I can easily see that only 20% of processed emails are related to the most important communication.
Yes, it is only 20%. The rest, 80% of my emails, are related to non-important communication and informational messages. I get them from thousands of different sources. So, this is the first problem here. I desperately need to read the things I subscribed years ago. So, today I need to click the delete button on hundreds of email messages I don’t read anymore. There is a great space for improvement.
How I Use My Email Inbox?
This is the second important question I asked myself before I start the overall improvement process. I start drawing my current working habits when it comes to email processing answering additional questions. The result is shown in the image below.
This is a great way to see how I use my email inbox and how I spend time there. Looking at these questions and answers, I could differentiate several problems that will need to be solved, removing all causes of these problems.
So, here I will talk about what I have done and how you can achieve the same results using the same steps I take for this improvement in my productivity.
1. Organize Your Email Inbox
Before several weeks, I was amazed when I paid attention to my email client of choice, PostBox (update: now I am using Spark email client), which was with over 15,000 emails. I already have different folders where I store different received emails. Still, my Inbox also has too many emails that I had read earlier or marked as read. But without deleting them if they don’t need to be part of the Inbox.
Because of that, sometimes, when I want to find some of my emails as a reference, I spend more time finding the information that I need. This was the alarm that I need to do something.
First, I start by deleting all emails that I think I will not need in the future. I delete all messages as different promotional materials and emails from a different subscription list. All of them doesn’t contain important information for me for the future. Then, I recreate my folders for archive purposes. Finally, I assign a topic for the important emails I think I will need to use in the future. For example, in my email client, I use topics such a home, work, personal, software licenses, outgoing payments…
In such a way of organising the folders in my email client, I can easily find what I need when I need it.
1.1 Remove reference emails in a more appropriate database
UPDATE: This was my first attempt to improve my working routine to process my email inbox. Doing this organization, I was able to have several categories of email messages that stay inside my email inboxes. This was only the starting point for improvements.
So, after several months of using my email client to search for information, I decided that it would be more efficient if I had only one repository for all the information I had. The first thing that comes to my mind was to use Evernote (update: now I use DevonThink). So, I transfer all the messages inside Evernote. So, anytime I need something as reference information, I will not open my email client, but Evernote. I will open Evernote and search for the information as I search for any other information in my Evernote account.
Today, I am using DevonThink to be a central repository of any important information for me and my business. If it is an attachment, when I download attachments, they go inside a specific folder. There I have Hazel rule and Apple Script to delete the file after it is sent inside DevonThink global inbox. If the information is inside the written email, I print it as a PDF. So, the same folder with the same Hazel rule will send it to the global inbox in DevonThink. After that, it will delete the file from the folder.
Using this approach, I was able to clean most of my messages inside my email inbox. Now, I have one place (app) for information and one app for email processing.
2. Limit How Many Times Daily You are Doing Email Processing Tasks
The second thing I have implemented, and that was hardest for me, was keeping my email client closed all day except when I have scheduled email processing tasks.
The basic idea was that I can open an email application and start with the email processing task on received emails several times a day. This enables me 5 hours to work on other things without emails. So, I don’t lose important things in my work.
In such a way, my time is better organized. This process will not allow distractions when I work on other important things.
3. When You Open the Email Immediately Take an Action
Email processing task doesn’t mean email reading. One of my biggest mistakes from the past was that after reading emails that don’t need the next actions from my side and don’t need it as a reference for the future, I don’t delete them.
Now, I use several steps:
3.1. Read – Response – Waiting List.
This type of activity comes when I read an email that needs my response. Also, I expect to receive a response from the sender after I sent my response. Because of that, this email will need to be placed on my waiting list in my to-do list manager.
With the help of Spark email client and OmniFocus, it is easy to send the email as a task inside OmniFocus.
I can select the due date and give a name to the task. So, now I can easily archive the message because I can easily find the message by clicking on the link inside notes in the OmniFocus task.
3.2. Read – Make a Task – Add Topic – Archive.
This sequence of activities is a part of my email processing task. I always implement it when the email will require some work from me, and I can’t do the work immediately. Because of that, I will need to read the email and make a task in my to-do management software. Also, I will assign the topic, and archive the email in the folder for to-do tasks.
The procedure is the same as in the previous sequence of activities.
3.3. Read – Response – Delete.
These activities inside my email processing task I am implementing when I receive an email that requires my response after reading, but it will not need to wait for the response from the sender. I will not need the message for future reference. So, I will not archive these email messages.
3.4. Read – Response – Add Topic – Archive.
This sequence of activities comes when I need to respond to the received email, but I will need it in the future. Because of that, I will need to add the topic and archive the email in a specific folder.
Also, because I will need the information inside of the email in the future, I will send it to DevonThink, as I explained earlier.
3.5. Read – Delete.
This is when I receive an email that I only need to read. There is no need for my response. Also, I don’t need it as a reference. I will delete these emails immediately from my Inbox. So, they will not stay anywhere to bother me when I really need to process some other emails.
3.6. Read – Add Topic – Archive.
This is the last sequence of activities I use when I work on email processing tasks. These emails don’t require my response, but I will use them in the future for reference purposes.
With this process inside my email processing task, I can easily manage my email Inbox to be always clean, and I will process everything.
4. Use To-Do Lists When You Work on Email Processing Task
As I mentioned above, every time I receive an email requiring some work from my side before the response, I make a task in my to-do list management software. In such a way, I can’t forget that I need to do something and send a response.
I use OmniFocus as my primary task management application. The first two sequences of activities from above (Read – Response – Waiting List and Read – Make a Task – Add Topic – Archive) will always be a part of my task management application.
5. Automate Standard Email Responses
When you work on the email processing task, many emails will need short standardized answers from your side. For example, many emails you receive will have an informative role for you. Here your answer will be a very standard answer for all such emails you receive in the future. Over 60% of my responses have such a standardized response. So, I need to type on my keyboard the same response several times a day. This is a time-consuming task for me.
Because of that, I spend one afternoon analyzing my responses and make several templates of answers. So, I can use them in the future. With the TextExpander, I will place all those answers in my email response immediately. This is done with several clicks on my keyboard.
This is a simple template where I will need to write a response, and after that, when I write “.regards”, it will paste inside the email response the lines of text as in the screenshot. But, for longer standardized emails, I have TextExpander snippets that will write the whole message after selecting some options as the name of the recipient or other variables inside the response.
Also, the Spark email client has its own system for email templates that can be used when we deal with the same or similar responses. I don’t use this option inside Spark because I already have built many responses inside TextExpander. But, if you don’t like to use several apps for this purpose, you can use one available for you.
In such a way, you can save your time when you work on processing email.
6. Always When You Can, Use Audio Responses
The last thing that I have done to increase my productivity when I work on email processing tasks is to use audio responses.
I found this strategy really worth increasing my own productivity. Most times, I use audio responses instead of written responses. On my iPhone, I use an application called Say It Mail It. These email responses can drastically decrease the time you spend on email processing tasks.