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 message 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 on my overall working time. Yes, every day I work on email processing task. Sometimes once, but sometimes several times in a day. Whenever I look at the process of 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. More than 20% of my total working time was spent 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 on 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 in order 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 end results from my last week can be seen in the image below. As you can see, I spend around two hours weekly on 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 in a position 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 that I get from thousands of different sources. So, this is the first problem here. I desperately need to get read of the things I have subscribed years before and 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 for what I spend time inside my email inbox. Looking at these questions and answers I was able to differentiate several problems that will need to be solved removing all causes to 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 pay attention that my email client of choice PostBox (update: now I am using Spark email client) has over 15,000 emails. I already have different folders where I store different received emails, but my Inbox also has too many emails that earlier I was simply read them 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 that doesn’t contain important information for me for the future. Then, I recreate my folders for archive purposes, and finally, I assign a topic for the important emails I think I will need to use them 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 organization of 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 when it comes to processing my email inbox. Doing this organization I was able to have several categories of email messages that stay inside my email inboxes and this was the starting point for improvements.
So, after several months using my email client to search for information, I decided that it will be more efficient if I have only one repository for all the information that I have. The first thing that comes to my mind at that time was to use Evernote for this purpose and transfer all the messages inside Evernote. So, anytime I need something as reference information I will not open my email client, but I will open Evernote and search for the information as I search for any other information that was in my Evernote account.
Today, I am using DevonThink for this purpose as a central repository of any important information for me and my business. If it is attachment when I download attachments they go inside a specific folder where 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 PDF and again the same folder with the same Hazel rule will send it to the global inbox in DevonThink and 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 to keep it closed my email client all day except in the cases 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 in a day that will enable me 5 hours to work on other things without emails and still do not lose important things in my work.
In such a way, my time is better organized and the 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 I finish reading received emails that don’t need the next actions from my side nor I need it as a reference for the future I don’t delete it.
Now, I use several steps:
1. Read – Response – Waiting List.
This type of activity comes when I read an email that needs my response and I expect to receive also the 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 clicking on the link inside notes in the OmniFocus task.
2. Read – Make a Task – Add Topic – Archive.
This sequence of activities as a part of my email processing task I am implementing always 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, make a task in my to-do management software, assign the topic, and archive email in the folder for to-do tasks.
The procedure is the same as in the previous sequence of activities.
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 and I will not need the message for the future reference. So, these email messages will not be archived.
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 the specific folder.
Also, because I will need the information inside of the email in the future, I will send it to the DevonThink, as I explained earlier.
5. Read – Delete.
This is the case when I receive an email that I only need to read it and there is no need for my response, nor I 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.
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 think that 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 when I receive an email that will require 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 and 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, and always I need to type on my keyboard the same response several times in a day. This is a time-consuming task for me.
Because of that, I spend one afternoon to analyze my responses and make several templates of answers that I can use in the future. With the TextExpander, I will place all those answers in my email response immediately after I make 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 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 I select some options as the name of the recipient or other variables inside the response.
Also, the Spark email client have their 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 a large base of responses inside TextExpander. But, if you don’t like to use several apps for this purpose, you can use one that is 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 in my efforts to increase my productivity when I work on email processing task is to use audio responses.
I found this strategy really worth to increase 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.