How much time do you think you spend reading and answering emails? A 2012 report from the McKinsey Global Institute shows that 28 percent of the average workweek is spent on the task. If you work a standard 40-hour week, that’s nearly 600 hours a year.
Sure, some of those emails may directly produce revenue. But most will not, and that’s why you need to reduce the amount of time you spend on the task — drastically. Here’s how.
1. Check your inbox less frequently. Email programs know how to get your attention. Between dings, chimes, and pop-up boxes, email can pull your attention away from revenue-producing tasks. Eliminate these distractions by turning off all of those notifications. Keep your email program turned off or your webmail inbox closed and get in the habit of checking it only four to six times per day. Remember to turn off the notifications on your phone, too.
2. Use a chat platform. Do you collaborate with someone all day? Don’t email each other. Use a chat platform like Google+ Hangouts, which requires only a free Gmail account to use. Chat platforms are perfect for quick but important messages between collaborators and, best of all, they don’t fill your inbox with scores of short emails. (Google saves chat sessions to your Gmail account, in case you need to go back and reference past conversations.)
3. Set up multiple email accounts. If you love reading about the newest sales from your favorite store, or if you have to register for anything using an email address, set up a free Gmail, Yahoo, or Outlook.com email address. Keep all non-business related email in another account. Do the same for your personal (vs. work-related) contacts. Don’t give friends and family your professional email address unless it’s absolutely necessary. Important people in your life can contact you for pressing reasons with a phone call or a text message.
4. Have a high standard for replying. Business owners receive many solicitations via email. Although it might seem uncaring or rude to you, only reply if you’re interested in the offer. Some busy executives set up an auto-response to inform people that, due to the volume of received emails, they are unable to respond to everybody.
5. Create filters and folders. Most email programs allow you to set up filters that automatically route incoming mail to designated folders in your inbox. Use them to direct email from certain important people into a high-priority folder while other, less urgent messages remain in your general inbox. Tip: Only set up a couple of folders in order to keep the system simple.
6. Adopt the two-minute rule. As you read your email, respond immediately to anything you can handle in two minutes or less. Move all other messages to a folder that holds emails for your reply at a later time.
7. Try the “inbox zero” strategy. Simply put, your inbox should only hold new messages. Everything else should be processed right away, instead of piling up and leaving you with hundreds of seemingly important emails to cope with. Watch this Google TechTalk to learn more about inbox zero; the video is long, but it makes a lot of strong points about not letting email take over your work life.
8. Recruit an assistant. Take a cue from corporate executives: If you have an assistant, assign him or her the task of screening your email. Your filters (see #5) already send important emails to your high-priority folder, so you can delegate the responsibility for handling other, general messages to somebody else. Your assistant can route customer emails to colleagues, answer routine questions on your behalf, and place emails that only you can address in the appropriate folder.