Everyone uses email. Whether you’re eight or eighty, most people with either a computer, tablet or phone have an email account. After struggled with email for years, I’ve learned the hard way that to be more productive with my time, I have needed systems that work efficiently every time I use them. When I’m working at top productivity, I try to avoid these 9 most common and critical email mistakes.
The first mistake that people make is starting their day by scanning their email box. This is the easiest way to side-track yourself and sabotage your time management plan for the day. Instead, wait till later in the morning – 10:30 am or so, to open your email. This provides you the early morning to knock off those critical, high-priority, important tasks you’ve planned to complete for today. I don’t look at email first thing. I typically wait until after I’ve completed the top priority task (or two for the day) on my list.
Email Mistake #2 – Failing to Prioritize Emails
When it’s email time, most people start at the top of the list and sort their way through to the bottom. Instead, to make the most use of your time, scan your email inbox for any item requiring follow up action. When you find something that needs follow up, immediately flag it and then ‘Time Activate’ the task by immediately adding it to your task list and assigning a time block to get it done.
Email Mistake #3 – Using Your Inbox As A Task List
If ever there was a way to stay confused, overwhelmed and inefficient it’s when you use your inbox as a task list. So many people make this mistake! Instead, when you receive an email that requires an action, immediately add that action item to your to-do list with an estimated time to complete it. The best practice I have is to move things out of email immediately onto my task list when they require follow up action. When I skip this step, invariably things tend to fall through the cracks.
Email Mistake #4 – Keeping All Emails In Your Inbox
If the email requires action or input from someone else, move the email file to a pending folder. You can label the file any way that makes the most sense to you. Some people use ‘Waiting’, ‘Pending’, ‘Follow-Up’ or whatever. The key is to choose a name that will trigger in YOUR head, not someone else’s. This is where you’ll easily find things when you need them.
Email Mistake #5 – Failing To Delete Or Archive
So often people leave all the emails in their inbox. When you do this it doesn’t take long to get overwhelmed. To stay on top of all the items coming in, you should be sorting and purging regularly. To do so, you can either delete emails or file them in subfolders (If you’re a Gmail user, you’ll archive).
Many people either delete all their messages or keep all of them. The truth is, it’s best to avoid extremes and find a healthy balance.
When you hold onto too many emails you won’t need you bog down your inbox and make it m0re time consuming to find emails later when you search for them. And over-deleting may be haphazard and cause you to miss important things you may need in the future. It’s best to take a look
Email Mistake #6 – Failing To Unsubscribe
During downtime, (every few weeks) I ‘clean-sweep’ my email inbox, tag junk mail, unsubscribe where I can, and delete my trash. One app that makes this really easy is Unroll.Me. This app really is incredible. It’s kind of like reading your email ads in one executive overview each day. I love this app because it helps me sort through all those ‘nice-to-know’, but not essential items. I use it to compile retail advertisements, email lists to which I subscribe, and Google Alerts. It makes it quick and efficient to catch up on the daily messages using this app. When I’m done with any of them, I can simply un-enroll within the app and it makes it so simple.
Email Mistake #7 – Too Many Subfolders
Long ago, it was critical to move emails to subfolders when you wanted to store important messages. However, now this step may be totally unnecessary as searching capabilities have become so much more robust. Today, I sweep emails into broad-based subfolders by month, quarter or even large periods of a calendar year.
When I go on vacation or know that I will be out of the office for extended periods of time- I sweep everything out of my inbox into a dated folder. In the case that I need to find it – it will be there, but most often, it’s not necessary.
Email Mistake #8 – Using Email Instead Of Project Apps
Once upon a time, the only option we had to communicate across distance and time was email. But today, there are so many helpful apps that making teaming easy. I manage my business and virtual teams using an online cloud-based team tool – Asana. It saves SO much time back and forth and has dramatically increased my teams’ ability to effectively communicate and share information without email! If you’re working with teams across time and space, you owe it to yourself to give a project management tool like Asana a try.
Email Mistake #9 – Trying To Maintain Inbox Zero
This last mistake may not be a popular opinion these days, but I happen to think that Inbox Zero is a bogus and compulsive pursuit which can turn into a huge time suck with little payoff. While it’s nice to have everything neat and tidy, email is one of those necessary evils. Making yourself crazy over trying to keep it to zero is just not worth your time. Emails will continue to come in, and you need to create systems and routines to help you manage it. Getting your inbox to zero may last for a fleeting moment, but I’ve decided after trying for a week straight, that something that can only be enjoyed momentarily was not worth the minutes that it lasted!
While it’s nice to have everything neat and tidy, email is one of those necessary evils. Making yourself crazy over trying to keep it to zero is just not worth your time. Emails will continue to come in, and you need to create systems and routines to help you manage it. Getting your inbox to zero may last for a fleeting moment, but I’ve decided after trying for a week straight, that something that can only be enjoyed momentarily was not worth the colossal effort it took for me to get there.
My biggest challenge now is managing connections, requests, and tasks that come in through social media… Often things happen with clients, colleagues, and collaborators via the social media platforms – and if I neglect my ‘tried-and-true system’, I drop out those details.
NOTE: Although I’ve tried to maintain inbox zero, I rarely have made it there. I typically receive around 300 emails daily with around 5-10% requiring some type of action. That means I add 15 to 30 things daily to my tasks.
The best way I’ve learned to deal with it is to build 1-2 days weekly for administration.
Avoiding common email mistakes is not difficult if you create a system and routines to keep you on track. Working out ways to avoid these 9 most common mistakes will save you time, frustration and make you more productive and organized.
On days that I am not working my system, I am not as consistent, nor efficient with my time… and have dropped out on details (which is embarrassing…), so I try to stick with what works for me. Everyone’s system is different. The key for email efficiency is to take advantage of the powerful tool that it is, and stop using it as a task list.