Email is a HUGE waste of time. It's not just SPAM (which is bad enough), it's your email-happy coworkers, employees, and customers.
According to one internal study, "the average employee spends 40 percent of their working week dealing with internal emails which add no value to the business." Consider that figure. If it's anywhere close to valid, you're wasting up to two days of every workweek futzing with your email.
Not to worry. Here are five relatively easy and painless ways to get the email monkey off your back... so you can get some real work done.
1. Tune the settings on your email app.
Let's start with the basics. Every email client has built-in capabilities that, when used properly, can lighten your email load.
Outlook, for example, can apply "rules" to incoming emails, sorting them into folders for future viewing, prioritizing them based upon sender, or deleting them altogether. The interface for building such rules is a bit wonky, but it's definitely worth the effort to master.
Similarly, Gmail can sort your emails based upon whom you correspond with the most. Even the relatively lame built-in iPhone mail client provides rudimentary SPAM filtering. Spend a little time tuning what you've got and you can save a lot of time later.
2. Learn more about your senders.
Now we're going to get a little more fancy. It's easier to figure out which emails need attention if you know more about who sent them to you. One way is to pop out of email and search the web but that's a hassle.
What works much better is a program that trolls around the web for you and fills you in on whomever sent you the email. Applications that do this vary according to the email client.
For example, Gmail users can use an application like Rapportive while Outlook users can use applications like LinkedIn for Outlook. A word of warning: be selective in customizing Outlook because the base program is not all that stable to begin with.
3. Use your smartphone as a filter.
Most people hook up their smartphone to their email account and end up reading (and thinking about) the incoming stream of email twice. That pretty much guarantees that you'll end up wasting time.
A more sane approach is to use an application like AwayFind. It spins through your incoming emails and when you receive an email from somebody important, sends you a text.
4. Automatically update your contacts.
Another big time consumer with email is "processing" contact information from the important emails that you receive, like those from your customers. It's all too easy to waste two or three minutes cutting and pasting stuff into your contact manager.
Honestly, there's no reason why you should be hassling with such mind-numbingly boring clerical work. Depending on what client you're using, there are multiple applications that harvest that data for you.
I recall seeing a number of these that work with CRM systems, but recently a colleague of mine recommended WriteThatName, which works with Gmail, GoogleApps, Outlook, and Lotus Notes.
5. Outsource your mailbox management.
Finally, there's the gold standard of keeping your email out of your hair, which is letting somebody else futz with it for you. I know one small company CEO who has his wife sort his messages, leaving him to focus on his customers and suppliers.
Another approach is to hand the email management to an omnibus program, like Sanebox, which adds some layers of intelligence atop the barebones features of whatever email system you're using.
Regardless of what approach you end up using, figure on spending half a day setting up an environment that makes your email less of a time burden. Your goal should be to reduce the time you spend on email, not increase the time you spend customizing it.
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