Antropy's Best Email Productivity Hacks

Posted by Paul on April 6, 2018

Love it or hate it, email as a method of business communication is here to stay. Most businesspeople send and receive hundreds or even thousands of emails per week which of course becomes thousands or hundreds of thousands a year, so time savings of even a few seconds per email become a significant office productivity boost or "time hack".

Plenty of really good stuff has been written on managing email and becoming a "Productivity Ninja". I'll mention a few very briefly below:

Sort by Date, Start with the Newest

When opening your email the first choice you face is "Where to start?" It's tempting to think starting with the oldest is logical because they've been waiting the longest but that's actually not the best way - if you start with the newest first you'll avoid the situation where you reply to an email only to find the sender has sent a later reply which supercedes the first and means your reply has been a waste of your time others'.

The 4 Ds of Email

Assuming you'll be processing your inbox from newest to oldest, you can apply one of the 4 actions to each email:

  • Delete It
    If it's spam or irrelevant, just delete it.

  • Do It
    If it will take under 2 minutes, just do what ever you need to do and then reply and archive the email.

  • Defer It
    If it's a bigger task than 2 minutes, reply acknowledging the email if appropriate and add the task to your todo list.

  • Delegate It
    If someone else is better placed to do or respond to the email, delegate it probably by "Replying All" but we'll come to that!

Regularly Getting to "Inbox Zero"

Ideally you should regularly have cleared out all your emails so that it's totally empty. Granted it won't stay that way for long but by having your todo list somewhere else, you can prioritize it effectively and not be distracted by new things coming in while you work through it. An inbox is not a todo list and should not be treated that way!

Turning Off Notifications

For the most part that little popup on your screen that tells you that you have a new email is just an unnecessary distraction that you don't need while you're trying to do a task. To produce good work you need to focus and to do that you don't need your attention grabbed by a little popup which will almost certain start you thinking about the content of the email that's just come in. So just turn them off and then ...

Check at Set Times

To make sure you are on top of your email and not the other way around, set time to check email and be disciplined enough not to check it at other times - close Outlook, Thunderbird, Mac Mail or whatever it is you use if you have to. Then during these set times go through the 4 Ds above which will keep your email client open for the minimal amount of time and keep you completing actual productive tasks for the maximum amount of time!

Three Sentences

Keep email super-short and crystal-clear - don't spend the time writing a rambling email as you think through what it is you're trying to say - or if it helps you think, delete it all except the conclusion. Occasionally I'll write out a long email and then only send the short last paragraph - respect other people's time - make the info they need super-short and crystal-clear.

Some high-level execs give one word answers from their phones - no "Hi Jeff" at the beginning and no "Kind regards, Roger" at the end. While I often find they go too far and don't give enough info, requiring further questions and follow-up which wastes more time than it saves, I recognise they're trying to save time and I fully subscribe to the philosophy of less is more! There's a great little site about this:

Keyboard Shortcuts

Point and click with a mouse is great and has its place, but to become a true Email Ninja, you need to be able to do pretty much everything with the keyboard. For example, in Thunderbird, I sort my emails in descending date order, highlight the first one, and from there I can use keyboard shortcuts to do 3 of the 4 Ds, the exception of course being Doing a task, which is likely to involve at least some mouse interaction. If I delete or archive an email, the next one is automatically highlighted, ready for shermination processing!

Recipient Awareness and Reply All

And finally make sure you're always aware who's copied in to an email and almost always use "Reply All" to include everybody and keep the discussion going rather than just "Reply" which is a bit like ducking out of a group chat and sending a Private Message to just one person ... creepy! More on this in my article about the Reply All button here.

What did you think of this article? Got any productivity tips to share? Please do let me know in the comments!

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