Can you tell right away how much time you spend checking, organizing and editing e-mails every day? As useful as digital messages are, they can be distracting and confusing. With our tips on how to use e-mails more efficiently, you’ll be more organized in the future while making sure that no important message slips through. You can then relax and invest the time saved in other To-Dos. Sounds good? Then let’s get started!
This article first appeared (in pre-Corona times) on Smartworkers.net and has been slightly revised.
1. Fixed time slots for reading and answering e-mails
We regularly catch ourselves checking the mailbox during breaks or while working on (important) tasks. Now, the problem is that break times aren’t used for recreation and checking your mails distracts you from tasks at hands. But how can you avoid this? Schedule fixed time slots every day to organize your mailbox! The amount of time slots depends on how often you receive mails that need to be processed immediately. If you’re not in customer service, two to four units spread over the working day should be enough.
2. Smart organization of your inbox
This sounds logical and simple at first. Of course, you are familiar with creating folders and using smart filters. However, most people often find it difficult to create a logical folder structure where no e-mail disappears while the inbox remains clean. Generally, e-mails can be classified into the following categories: Newsletters, to be answered today, To follow up and important background information for the archive.
As far as the organization of newsletters is concerned, intelligent filters can be used to make the mail flood disappear directly into a folder. Here you can read them when you have enough time. Everything with the label “to be answered today”, you can do it within the scheduled time slots. Make sure that you only touch each mail once and move it to the archive afterwards. Check the follow-up folder once or twice a week to keep an eye on future tasks and projects. The archive is best organized by projects and/or customers. Pro-Tip: If you prefer many subfolders, you should use an e-mail program with a good search function, such as Microsoft Outlook, in order to efficiently find even older conversations in a short time.
However, those who are totally opposed to the folder structure can also be happy when working in the inbox. Work with markers, for example, or tick off your mails directly after completing the to-do. As far as markers are concerned, we recommend different colours. With reference to the categories mentioned above, this could look like this: Red for newsletters, blue for to be answered today, green for follow-up and yellow for important background information for the archive.
3. Choose the right subject
Does it often happen to you that your e-mails are not answered or answered later than you ‘d want? Then you should check your wording, especially in the subject field. A meaningful subject line is trumps. It is best to write it at the very end to emphasize the essentials of the e-mail as clearly as possible. If you need feedback urgently, it should be made clear in the subject line.
Here is an example: [Project name]: [Contents] with the request for release by [date].
What you want and by when this email needs to be answered becomes clear at first glance to customers, service providers and colleagues. You can also emphasize urgent agreements with the help of a corresponding prioritization. But be careful: such a prioritization should be used sparingly, because if you permanently set even less important mails on “high priority”, you might not be taken seriously anymore and cause the exact opposite effect – a delayed response or, in the worst case, even no answer at all.
4. Keep it short and precise
Mails should only be as long as necessary – the shorter the better! Put yourself in the recipient’s position: iis the topic of the mail clear or do you need further information for a better understanding? Is the content well structured? Otherwise you not only make it difficult for the reader to understand the message, but you may also delay their answer. A good structure is not limited to the content, it should be visually supported by paragraphs, lists and sparingly used highlights. The aim is for the reader to understand the relevant content by just skimming the text.
Another important part of the mail comes right at the end: the closing. A study by the software provider Boomerang shows that e-mails ending with “Thank you”, “Thank you in advance” and “Thank you very much” achieve a much higher response rate than those that only send “Best regards”.
5. Reduce your e-mails
Yes, you can! Start by unsubscribing from (all) unused newsletters. This takes some time, but there are services like unroll.me that support you and automate the unsubscription process to a large extent. It can also be helpful to simply unsubscribe from all newsletters and afterwards decide what you really need and want to read.
Another tip from us is to read your answer to an e-mail thoroughly before you send them. Ask yourself if you have really answered all the sender’s points and if all your questions are clear before you press the “send” button. This way you can avoid unnecessary answer loops.
In addition, switching to other media can help to reduce the mail traffic. Is it possible to clarify an issue over thephone? For internal communication, it is also a good idea to switch to a team chat, for example via Microsoft Teams or Slacks.