My 5 favorite email tactics

Productivity

Takeaway: My five favorite ways to manage a busy inbox: conduct email sprints, use your email’s auto-responder feature, limit emails to five sentences, delete the email app off of your phone, and tackle email during lower energy periods. Estimated Reading Time: 2 minute, 39s.

Email can feel like a weird beast to tame. Equal parts essential, helpful, and downright annoying, it can be a mixed bag for productivity. So how can you take advantage of the good parts of email while leaving the bad?

Here are five of my favorite tactics, each of which can help wrangle your mess of messages:

1. Conduct “email sprints”

Instead of checking email throughout the day, dedicate 15 or 20 minutes to undertake an email sprint. Setting a timer, get through as much email as you possibly can. Having a time parameter creates an artificial deadline which will help you plow through more messages—while turning email into a bit of a game. I rely on this tactic every day, and each day work four or five sprints into my schedule.

2. Set auto-responders more frequently

Auto-responders (or vacation responders) can be as much for you as they are for those emailing you. Take advantage of them. Even when you’re working, enabling an auto-responder can give you immense freedom to not check email, especially when you give those messaging you a way of contacting you with anything urgent.

Whenever I want to hunker down on something important, I switch on an auto-responder explaining that I’m on an email vacation, though I’m around if anything urgent comes up. You may want to use this tactic sparingly if your work is highly-collaborative, but I’ve personally had a lot of success with it.

3. Live by the five-sentence rule

I first mentioned this rule in my book, The Productivity Project. In your email signature, add a note that says something along the lines of, “To respect your time (and spend less time on email), I try to keep every message to five sentences or less.”

I felt rude when I first adopted this tactic. Over time, though, I’ve started to see a similar disclaimer in messages from others. If you need to type something longer than five sentences, it’s a good cue to pick up the phone and call the person.

4. Delete email off your phone

As with all productivity advice, take what works for you and leave the rest. But this is one rule I live by. If you’re like me and you don’t get paid to be on call, the email app on your phone can be an energy drain. If you have an email app (or two!) installed on your phone, question whether it truly needs to be there. I have much more head space—and get more done throughout my day—with the email app deleted.

5. Tackle email during periods of low energy

Email is probably an essential component of your job, but at the same time it’s probably not anywhere near the most important thing you do. For this reason, I like to schedule my email/communication sprints during the time of day when I have the least amount of energy. (Here’s how to calculate your daily energy rhythms!)

Often the best productivity tactics are simple—even common sense in hindsight. A few of the above ideas fall into this category. Yet, of all the email tactics I’ve tried, these are the ones that have stuck.

Give them a shot—you might be surprised by how well they work.

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