Blog Author: Chris Wollerman, CEO of InnovaSystems International, LLC.

How much time do you spend managing email each day? Would you like some of your life back by spending less time with email so you can do more—starting today? If you’re like most busy professionals, you likely spend more time with your inbox than you would like to, or should. Fortunately, there are a variety of recommended time management techniques for filtering, filing, flagging, sorting, setting rules, and more to help you gain control of your email inbox. While they offer valuable tips, I use three techniques beyond these that prove to make the most significant impact—and cut my time spent on email by at least 50 percent every day.

1.     Use the Inspire! 2.0 Today feature to capture emails that can’t be acted on immediately

2.     Send less and receive less. Minimize large ‘cc’ lists and reply-to-all chains

3.     Structure messages with clear and concise action (ABC formatting)

Here are a few details on each technique:

1.     Today in Inspire! 2.0: This is the first and last thing I do each work day, rather than checking email. If you can avoid the temptation to check your inbox as the first step in your day, you can start the day with a few important accomplishments under your belt. Checking it at the end avoids those frustrating missed deadlines. It all starts with a plan of your top priorities, and allowing yourself to focus on them first before jumping into email, which usually turns out to be other people’s priorities. Next, turn emails into tasks rather than tackling them all at once. I can get through a 50-email inbox in about 15 minutes by following three simple rules:

a.     Scan messages for importance; send short, direct replies for those that can be acted on immediately.

b.    Any important email that can’t be read and responded to within 15-30 seconds goes into my task list, which goes straight to Inspire! Today for prioritization. This way, important emails never fall through the cracks. You either have to act on it or delete it to get it out of Inspire! Today (see the Today Tutorial video at www.inspire-app.com).

c.     Block junk – instead of hitting delete, right click and block the junk from returning.

At the end of your day, review your Today list, act upon those that need a response by COB, then prioritize any remaining actions that need to get done tomorrow or in the future. The next morning, review the tasks that you’ve assigned to yourself as top priority and act on those before looking for any new email messages. Then repeat the three steps above. 

2.     Send less and receive less: This is probably the most effective technique to reducing your inbox. Send fewer messages with fewer people cc’d and you’ll get much less in return. Ask yourself: Does everyone I’ve included on this message really need this information? We’ve all been on those long email chains with way too many people cc’d hitting reply to all with their two cents. One simple email with 20 team members cc’d will generate 100 sent messages if only 4 of them hit reply-to-all just once. The days of keeping people in the loop on everything by copying them are over, since most people can’t keep up with the information overload. Sending non-critical information can actually hurt your chances of having more critical emails read or acted upon.

3.     Structure messages with ABC format: Get to the point! Action: Exactly who needs to do what by when? That’s what should go in your subject line and the first line of the email if you are asking someone to do something with your message. Use ‘Info’, ‘Request’, ‘Confirmed’ or ‘Delivery’ in the subject for any non-action emails and your readers will have a much better understanding of your message and how to handle it. Any additional information such as why or how can be expanded upon in the Background: section. If you are not asking your audience to do anything, start out with FYI NRN (For Your Information, No Reply Needed) to save your reader from trying to figure out what they are supposed to do with this message. Be sure to ask yourself the question in the previous section, “does everyone need this?” Finally, close your message with some quick next steps and friendly reminders but don’t expect all of your audience to get this far. Set some norms on your team that everyone is expected to format email messages this way and should respond by the due date for action types, at least with request for clarification or more time if the action can’t be completed.

Hopefully, these email management techniques will help you and your work team gain some valuable time back from your inboxes. Good luck!