Productivity Lie #15: All emails are created equally

Stop checking email 24/7. It’s an addiction, a self-sabotage act particularly if you feel like there is never enough time. It's killing your productivity


A really exciting thing happened to me yesterday. Returning from a business trip; tired, head buzzing with ideas yet desperate in need of sleep, I was excited to discover that the seat next to me would be taken up by none other than a wonderful colleague whose company I adore and I hadn’t seen for ages. And just like her fear of flying, the anxiety she expressed as the plane was taking off was mirrored in her time management issues, and the ever mounting email, magnetically beckoning her … the addiction that few are prepared to admit to, but many experience daily.

“My name is (insert your name here), and I’m addicted to email.”

PRODUCTIVITY LIE #15: Every Email Needs a Reply

According to The Radicati Group, Email Statistics Report, 2011-2015, email users are receiving an average of 84 emails a day, 71 of which are legitimate (i.e. not spam). If 80% of all emails received are tasks for you to do, your email adds a whopping 56.8 new tasks to your to-do list every single day. Now add in all the other tasks you are needing to action daily, ones delivered verbally or via other communication platforms and you’ve finally figured out why you’ve been feeling so overwhelmed. Living the expectation that every email needs a reply is not only unrealistic, but potentially disastrous to your wellbeing.

The three things you can do right now:

1. Get out of your inbox

Stop checking email 24/7. It’s a habit, an addiction and a self-sabotage strategy particularly if you are feeling like there is never enough time. Whilst I understand the fear that you might miss something important, checking email constantly comes at a cost to your output which ultimately means you’re needing to take work home which, contrary to popular belief, makes you less productive in the first place. Like any addiction, breaking the habit is tough, but with mindful and continuous self-discipline it’s totally possible.

  • Remove all automatic email notifications
    These distractions are the equivalent to putting a glass of vodka in a recovering alcoholic’s hand. While your email will still automatically arrive in your inbox, you won’t be distracted 84 times a day meaning you’re likely to get more done, in less time, with a greater result. Learning to manage your e-mail notifications will automatically save you time that you can spend doing more important tasks
  • Schedule three email check-ins a day
    Whilst I know some pretty successful execs who only check their email once a day, for most of my clients, cutting back the constant email check to three focused 30 minute check-ins is manageable, even if you feel yourself gasping for breath right now. The check-ins are for scanning incoming mails for urgency and relevance, taking two minute actions where appropriate, while prioritising and scheduling tasks according to relevance, urgency and overall value to your bottom line. Schedule the first 30 minute slot for one hour after you arrive at work, another midday and the last around 45 minutes before you are due to leave the office or bringing closure to your work day.

2. Use meaningful subject lines

Now listen up as this is where you can start a real revolution. Using meaningful subject lines is a win-win. Besides you boosting the chance of a favourable response, you can spend less time composing emails, reading emails and hell yes, you’re even likely to receive less too. It’s a no-brainer really. Think of your subject line as the title of a task i.e. what action needs to be taken. Use words like: phone, sign, confirm and always include the delivery deadline if there is one. Example “Pay telephone account by Friday 12h00”

  • EOM – End of Message:
    If you can contain the full content of your email in the subject line, then do. You don’t waste any time writing pleasantries like “Dear Tracey, I hope you are having a lovely day …”and I don’t have to waste any of my time reading “I’m so not happy with this weather, way too cold for April don’t you think? Anyway …”. Ending off the subject line with the letters EOM, excuses you from feeling obliged to write any email body while the recipient knows not to waste time opening the mail. Example “Pay telephone account by Friday 12h00 EOM”
  • NNTR – No Need to Reply:
    Here’s how you stop the spiral of email chains containing nothing more than a bunch of smiley faces and low value “Thanks”, “Got it”, “Great” which frankly just wastes time. Typing NNTR at the end of your subject line means simply … you, recipient; stop wasting your time clogging up my inbox with a low value email, I’m assuming you’ve received this mail and frankly, I DO NOT need a response. Example “Pay telephone account by Friday 12h00 NNTR” or even “Pay telephone account by Friday 12h00 EOM NNTR

Note: Share this info with your colleagues, clients and friends. While the intention is for them to follow your sage wisdom and stealth email antics, at minimum, they’ll understand what you’re saying and save themselves some time too without being offended.

 3. Hit delete

Okay, here’s where things get fun. Hitting delete is not an offence. Honestly, you should try it more often.

  • If an incoming mail is not needed for reference or legal purposes, and most aren’t by the way, why are you feeling obliged to keep it? Press delete, or at minimum, shift it out of your inbox.
  • If a mail is of low or no value to you or your company, why are you wasting precious time responding?

So there you have it; just like humans, emails are not created equally. Spend time and energy focusing your attention on the mails that bring you closest to fulfilling your core job specification or those that bring your company closer to generating revenue. 420 mails a week, 1680 a month, 20 160 a year are, by anyone’s standards, too many to have to respond to on top of doing your job.

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