These days, most people spend an incredible amount of time on email. Each study on the topic is more horrifying than the last. Here's one that says email probably eats four hours of every day. Here's another saying you lose 25 minutes every time you respond to a message. Or how about this study that proves 80 percent of emails are a total waste?
What can you do about this productivity-sucking reality? Controlling the rampaging monster that is email entirely is probably beyond most everyone's abilities (though a few rebels have managed it), as doing so would mean controlling other people's sloppy email habits.
But, according to new research from online productivity training company Zarvana, it is possible to wrestle back at least one hour of your day from email. Doing so is simple, in fact.
What could you do with an extra hour a day?
The company was originally the brainchild of its productivity-obsessed founder, Matthew Plummer, but it recently went through a transition, pivoting to apply a more quantitative approach to its products.
"We headed over to Google Scholar, SSRN (according to Malcolm Gladwell, 'the greatest website on the internet'), and other more academic sites, and dug into the academically published papers," Plummer reports in a blog post. "Lo and behold, we were able to establish a menu of research-backed, timesaving practices and assign actual time savings to each of the practices."
So how much time does science say getting better at dealing with email will save you? A not inconsiderable one hour and 21 minutes a day. That's enough to start that exercise habit you've been putting off for a decade, read something like 200 books annually, or take a nice vacation (it works out to something like an extra two weeks of free time a year).
What's better, when I emailed Plummer to get more details, he insisted you don't need a computer science PhD, dark magic, or ultramarathon levels of willpower to accomplish this savings. In fact, all you need to do is make five tweaks to how you interact with your inbox.
Apply a "single-touch" rule to your inbox: "We waste 27 minutes a day rereading emails that are sitting in our inbox because we don't process them after reading them the first time," warns Plummer. Don't make your inbox your to-do list. "Delete or archive every email immediately after reading it," he instructs, and record any open action items in a system that's actually designed for this purpose (choosing one that integrates email and your to-do list helps mightily).
Turn off email notifications and check your email hourly: "On average, we check our email 15 times per day," says Plummer, which we can all agree is way too much. But the once or twice a day recommended by some gurus just isn't feasible for many. Instead, Plummer suggests checking hourly for a savings of 13 minutes a day. You don't have a prayer of accomplishing this, though, if you don't switch off your notifications.
Use search to find emails: Forget folders. "On average, we have 37 email folders. However, searching and scrolling is 9 percent faster than using folders," reports Plummer.
Have just two folders, and use shortcuts to move emails into them: You spend a silly amount of time physically moving emails around between folders, cautions Plummer. Instead, have just two: Archive and Readings (more on this in the next tip), and use keyboard shortcuts to move messages into them. Just this miniscule change can save you up to 11 minutes a day.
Automatically filter "no-action" emails: You probably delete the vast majority of bulk emails, like offers and newsletters, without reading them. For the 20 percent you do open, you probably give them no more than 20 seconds of your time. In short, these emails are super low value, so set your inbox to automatically filter them and their time-wasting potential into a "Readings" folder. Presto, you've just earned yourself 8 minutes a day.