Email takes forever. Office workers spend thousands of hours per year poring over packed inboxes, and some studies suggest that a quarter of the workday is spent sifting through digital missives.
Some people turn to specialized software, such as CleanEmail, which can radically reduce excess correspondence and unopened messages. Tap or click here to find out how it can help you automatically sift through the junk.
As a busy entrepreneur, I’ve found the best way to tackle email is through discipline and strong organizational skills. A couple of handy digital tools also help.
While you’re taking a hard look at your email, it might be time to evaluate whether you’re using the best free email program. Tap or click for my favorite free program that works with Macs, PCs, Linux, iPhone and Android.
Here are some tactics I use to streamline my email and save large blocks of time.
1. The one-minute rule
Email takes so much time, and it’s easy to procrastinate. So I instituted a one-minute rule: if a message requires only a sentence, or even a single-word reply, I respond to it right away.
Gmail makes this even easier, thanks to its auto-complete function. Google uses your past correspondences to “guess” what your email will contain. This can be useful, especially for emails that require little context or formality, and it makes the one-minute rule even easier to enact.
2. Silence your phone
During a busy day, a constant flood of notifications does more harm than good. You constantly have to stop what you’re doing and check your phone. Instead of prioritizing tasks and crossing them off one by one, you jump between one and another.
Sometimes, you just have to ignore your phone. First, you can switch off individual notifications for your many apps, including email, which will still make you available for calls. You can also just silence your phone, although the sight of push notifications may continue to distract. You could also turn it off, but it’ll take a minute to reboot.
One technique many people find useful is Airplane Mode. This allows you to quickly quiet your phone, then quickly reactivate it and receive all your notifications at once. On iPhone, it’s as easy as Settings >> Airplane Mode, then toggle it back and forth. On Android, swipe down for Quick Settings >> Airplane Mode.
Spam filters help clean out the actual junk mail and phishing scams — but what about serial messages we never actually read? These might come from legitimate contacts, companies and organizations. But if you never even open those newsletters, why keep receiving them?
For mass emails, an unsubscribe link is almost always included at the bottom. It only takes a few seconds, and sacrificing that correspondence can give you extra time and peace of mind. Just think: What would Marie Kondo do?
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4. Set it and forget it
Both Microsoft Office and Gmail have special functions to help you organize your email. With Gmail, you can create labels; these work like folders, categorizing the bulk of the emails you receive, such as press releases, invoices and communications from key business partners or messages from department heads.
To create a label in Gmail:
1. Click the gear icon and click on Settings.
2. Go to the Labels tab.
3. Find and click Create New Label.
4. Name the label.
5. Click Create.
The labels will show up on the left-hand reading pane of your inbox. Now you can manually move emails into the right spot. Here’s how:
- Open the Message.
- Click the Label icon above the message (it looks like a tag).
- Check off each Label to want to add, or type a new Label.
You can also automate the process:
- Click the caret in the Search Email Box and a drop-down form will appear.
- Insert the Criteria for your label/folders.
- Click Create filter with this search.
- Apply the label by clicking the Choose Label drop-down.
- Click Create filter to save.
If you use Microsoft Outlook, the easiest thing to do is create folders. Then, as you receive emails, you can manually drag them to the appropriate folder, and star important messages within a particular category.
5. Other methods of communication
Email is perfect for transmitting thorough, thought-out messages. But sometimes you need to have an actual conversation, and waiting for a response can burn valuable time. In my own office, we use Google Hangouts to communicate between workstations, but there are scores of other methods for quick communication, from Skype to Messenger to Slack.
While email is our knee-jerk response, we often forget that an actual phone call can also be the most effective of all.
6. Sync devices
Your email is likely spread across multiple devices. When you send, receive or delete an email on one device, it’s critical to keep that workflow consistent across others as well. That way you don’t miss important messages or confuse others.
To set up syncing on all your devices, go to your Gmail site on your desktop and click:
- Click the gear icon and click Settings.
- Select Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab.
- Under IMAP access, Enable Pop for all mail,Enable IMAP.
- Scroll down and select Save Changes.
In that same menu, you’ll find a link for configuring mail retrieval through other platforms. This is important when trying to access your account through third parties like Thunderbird, or through the native Mail app on an iPhone. It’s much easier to set up using the official Gmail app that comes preloaded on Android phones, which is also available for iOS in the Apple App Store.
If you use Microsoft Outlook at work, and the mailbox you want to sync is on your company’s Exchange server, it’s best to take the devices to your IT department. They can provide you with the domain name and other information you need to set up the mailbox on other devices.
What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call Kim’s national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to or watch the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television or computer. Or tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.