3 productivity enthusiasts share their tips for managing emails at work

We spoke with 3 organizational experts to hear their strategies for managing email — so you're not left drowning in your inbox.

Laura MacPherson, Writer
01 July 20205 Min Read

We spoke with 3 organizational experts to hear their strategies for managing email — so you're not left drowning in your inbox.

Unfortunately, waving farewell to our email altogether isn't an option. Email is ingrained in life and work — and it's here to stay. In fact, the average office worker receives 128 work-related emails daily and spends 28 percent of their work week on email.

Fortunately, there are ways to manage email efficiently so we can get on with more important work. We spoke with three productivity enthusiasts who’ve mastered the art of managing emails at work, and in this post, they’re sharing the strategies that serve them best. 

1. Save time by being concise

Most people are prone to adding filler phrases or extraneous sentences to their messages. If you’re following up after a phone call, for example, there’s no need to say, “Thanks for the phone call this afternoon.” Darius Foroux, a writer who focuses on productivity and habit-formation, adds that filler phrases using business-speak can also be confusing and sound passive-aggressive. Phrases like, “I would argue,” “Per our last conversation,” and “I’d like to get the ball rolling,” are not only unnecessary, they can also lead to misunderstandings. Leave them out (along with all these words and phrases.)

Emilio Garcia, founder of Boundify, a B2B lead generation agency, shares that he uses Grammarly to keep his emails concise. He also uses bullet points whenever possible to shorten sentences, which also has the benefit of making reading easier for the recipient.

Another strategy to stay concise is to impose a length limit on yourself. Robbie Fitzwater, lecturer for the Clemson University MBA and undergraduate marketing programs and founder of MKTG Rhythm, shares, “I try to keep emails to under five sentences whenever possible, and I add spaces between sentences so the message can be read and understood quickly.”

2. Create a system for follow-ups

Trying to remember who you need to follow up with and when can easily turn into a time-suck. It also adds to the list of things your working memory has to store. Instead of following up ad hoc, create a system that you use each and every time you follow up. A standard process will allow you to create a habit that puts your brain on autopilot. It’s also helpful to use a tool like Boomerang (or Front!) that will ping you if someone hasn’t responded within a certain amount of time.

Fitzwater’s system is simple and consistent. He replies in the existing message thread with four options:

  1. Would this be easier over a call for context? (Y/N)

  2. If so would any of the times on this list work: (list times)

  3. Would it be easier if I followed up in a week? (Y/N)

  4. Respond with 🤬  if you never want to hear from me again!

He adds, “I try to keep it light by adding a human element to the message.”

Foroux agrees with the need to keep it light. He says, “Never refer to your failed attempt to get a response. You wouldn’t do that with a friend, would you?”

3. Get on the phone when necessary

Certain conversations are more efficient when handled via the phone. If you suspect that a conversation will require some back-and-forth, it will take less time to spend a few minutes on the phone than to compose and type several emails (which may need further clarification, requiring a phone call in the end anyway). 

Fitzwater’s rule of thumb is that if a conversation demands more than one back-and-forth, he asks for a call. He also shares that he uses video to speed up giving feedback via email: “I’ve been sending more and more video messages along with my emails lately. I teach, so I started doing it for my class for feedback on projects. It was really well received so I’ve translated it into more of my workflow.”

Garcia adds that any conversation with an emotional element should happen over the phone to avoid creating misunderstandings (which drain your energy as well as waste time). 

4. Take advantage of templates

Templates and canned responses can also speed up time spent composing emails. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel each time you write answers to frequently asked questions. Fitzwater shares that he uses about ten canned responses and a few email templates to convey information he tends to share consistently, which gets him through composing replies much faster. 

Tools like TextExpander can also help, allowing you to insert snippets of text from a repository of content using a quick search or abbreviation.

5. Other tricks for how to manage work emails

Beyond these four primary strategies that our productivity enthusiasts all use, Fitzwater and Garcia share a few other tricks that boost efficiency.

Use automation when possible — Garcia says, “I love the snooze feature of Gmail. It allows me to move to future dates or times emails that I can't work right away or that I've delegated.”

Touch each email only once — Fitzwater shares the importance of not duplicating effort: “If I open an email, I try to respond to it right then, as opposed to opening it and letting it sit and then coming back to it. It decreases rework on my end.” 

Set a specific time each day to deal with email — Fitzwater is also intentional about when he works in his inbox: “Setting times each day to respond to email makes my time much more effective, and I’m not living under the tyranny of my inbox.”

Focusing on brevity, creating processes, and using tools designed to speed up email management can go a long way in making you more productive — and may even improve your work relationships as a result!

Want more on how to improve email productivity? Read our IDC study on using collaborative email to make your team more efficient and productive with email.

Written by Laura MacPherson
Last Updated: 6 July 2020
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