Increasing Email Productivity

Once again, while technology is a great benefit for the modern company, aspects of it can lead to a productivity pitfall. Email has been identified as being one of the most significant concerns with effective time management. MindTools cites a 2007 Basex study estimating that email distractions costs businesses an estimated $588 billion per year.

Email is necessary. When used properly, it can be a huge asset for a company. Think about how much a business would struggle without email. You need to update multiple departments on a project. Instead of picking up the phone to call HR, purchasing, the warehouse manager, IT and your marketing department – never mind the follow up calls when you don’t get a hold of someone – you can open your email and shoot off a five-minute update, copying all the key personnel.

It is efficient. Unfortunately, this is one of those cases where you can have too much of a good thing. By keeping your email open throughout your workday, you’re open to a constant stream of distracting messages. Instead, put into place the many techniques successful startup Founders have utilized to keep the email monster under control.

First of all, separate your work email from your personal life. Refrain from giving friends and family your work email address. Set up a separate account to keep the holiday plans segregated from your work-based projects. Use that personal account when you are doing any online shopping or using sites requiring an email address.

There are a number of email clients out there, like Mozilla Thunderbird or Apple’s default mail program.  Personally, I recommend using an online service like Gmail. The reasons are pretty straightforward.  If you have a lot of email, opening up a native client sometime takes a while to load the application, whereas Gmail can be opened up on the browser in a split second.  Another bonus is by using a website instead of an email client, you can use tools like RescueTime or to place limits on when you can access that website.

Part of the reason I used native email clients in the past was my email wasn’t actually associated to a Google account.  That meant I would have to open my email through a protocol like POP3 or IMAP through one of the email clients.  When I realized I was suffering from email overload I knew I had to do something, so I decided to create a Gmail account and forward all of my email addresses to it.  This gave me way better spam protection and I started to create a number of filters to mark emails as read and archived, such as payment notifications.

Those are just some of the ways I tackled my email overload problem.  Let’s look at other ways to reduce your email burden.

Turn off notifications.
Notifications are the killer of productivity.  They interrupt you when you’re busy doing real work, cost you your attention and your time getting back to the task after the disruption.  Most emails are simply not urgent and aren’t worth breaking your focus.  If you’re worried you’ll miss something important give those who are important your phone number and insist they only call you if they consider something urgent.

Plan your email times.
Chose a block of day when you deliberately check your email. It might be first thing in the morning and right after lunch. Attend to the items that need your focus and turn your email program off again. Some companies tout an ‘email free’ day where employees are encouraged to keep their email turned off for an entire day.

Regardless, it’s important to let co-workers know that you are designating email-free blocks in your day. If there is an emergency or an urgent message, they need to know ahead of time that you won’t be accessible via email during those times.

IM me.
Encourage an instant message program within your work community, but teach the ‘dos and don’ts’ of a healthy instant messaging. Instant messaging is a quick, text-based alternative to email. It isn’t ideal for a lengthy project, but more of a way to check in. “Where’s the Smith file?” “On Kristine’s desk.” “On the phone with Mr. Smith. Can you bring it to me ASAP?” are some real-time examples of sending an instant message that needs a quick response.

Just as any other productivity tool, instant messaging can be just as distracting if abused or not used correctly. Many IM programs allow you to post a status so you can indicate if you are available, busy, in a meeting, or away from your desk.

Take the time to look into apps like Slack, which facilitates real-time communication between team members. You can use it to share files, send messages to your team, or just a private message to one team member.

Slack App

File, file, file.
Another way to boost productivity is to use an effective (for you) email filing system. Merlin Mann, from, introduces a concept that he coined “Inbox Zero,” with the ultimate objective to deal with every email every day.

Jeff Goins, author of The Art of Work, estimates that about 90% of email is “disposable.” For the remaining 10%, consider a filing system to do the task in the email immediately, forward it to a more appropriate person to do the objective in the email, put it in a folder to go back to at a later time, or archive the email for reference, but not as an item that requires any action.

Goins highlights the need for you to practice good email etiquette, as a way of helping to set the bar for the type of email you receive. Keep emails short, he insists, and actionable. Be polite, but don’t bog your message down with unnecessary formalities.

Don’t send unnecessary messages.
How many times have you emailed someone with important information, only to get a two-word email in response? “Thank you.” Imagine how many “thank you” emails you’ve gotten that distracted you, made you contemplate the necessity of a response, and then had to delete.

Outsource your email tasks.
A final thought for email management is to reach out for help. Hire an assistant to monitor and help your email filing system. With proper training and common sense, the assistant will be able to determine which emails might need your assistance immediately, and which ones can be filed for your review at a later time.

Consider programs like SaneBox.
Touted by business gurus like Tony Robbins, SaneBox is an intuitive program designed to ‘learn’ your preferences and file emails based on importance. It works with any email platform and any device.

Regardless of how you approach email, it’s important to remember that what can be an extremely useful tool has its drawbacks. Identify areas where you can improve efficiency and take the necessary steps to keep email from attacking your productivity.


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Productivity Guide for Startup Founders