A while ago, Nintex Senior Director of Human Resources Karina Mounivong worried she wasn’t managing her time well, leading her to embark on an email management audit. She was curious how much time she spent on email and concerned that her email use was hindering – rather than helping – her professionally.
Most days, she spent an hour or more checking emails before heading to work. As a result, she left home feeling rushed and arrived at the office feeling like she was already behind.
So she created a spreadsheet and, for one month, she tracked every instance of email use. She jotted down when she logged into email, when she logged out and how she felt every time she used email, whether frustrated, accomplished or something else.
“What I learned from it is that I was on email even more than I thought. I was doing my email in these frequent, tiny, ineffective chunks,” she says. “It gave me a lot of clarity and helped me determine what to do more easily. I knew I needed to change something about how I was managing my day. You can’t burn the candle at both ends indefinitely. At some point, you have to stop before the candle is gone.”
She understands why email management is a challenge for people – “It is always on and so it’s very hard to resist” – but her own email management audit emphasized the value of managing email rather than letting it manage you.
Why Is Email Management Important?
When dealing with a constant barrage of email, people lose 10 IQ points – the same as they would if they lost an entire night’s sleep, according to research by IT company Atlassian. And almost a third of a professional’s day is spent on email, according to 2012 McKinsey Global Institute report.
Atlassian’s “You Waste a Lot of Time at Work” infographic offers several statistics about professional email use, including:
- People receive an average of 304 business emails a week
- The average employee checks email 36 times every hour
- It takes 16 minutes for most people to refocus after handling an incoming email
While you have limited control over the number of emails that people send you, the way you handle it is up to you. Handle it ineffectively and you’ll feel like you’re drowning in a never-ending torrent of requests, meeting summaries and other emails.
Below are four tips for effective email management:
1. Take Advantage of Built-in Email Features
Folders. Categories. Labels.
Whatever organizational tools are offered by your email service, take advantage of them as they can go a long way toward alleviating your email frustrations.
Suki Bahth, a Nintex EMEA Territory Manager, created several folders within Outlook and set up rules so Outlook automatically files emails into the correct folder, such as sending all emails labeled Forecast to his Forecast folder.
He’s also created folders for emails that people deemed urgent and another for emails from his boss, making it easier to respond quickly to the most critical emails in his Inbox.
“I taught myself the rule-making process but it’s quite simple,” Suki says. “I use a similar system for my personal emails, mainly because I do everything online, purchasing, bills, etc.”
2. Opt for IM or Face-to-Face Conversation Whenever Possible
Sending an email can become a habit. Start considering if there are alternative – and more productive ways – to get answers or relay information. Try an online project management tool like Trello or Smartsheet via which all tasks, assets and stakeholders for a project are on a single board or on a single card rather than across numerous, hard-to-track emails.
Consider the power of connecting in a more personal way. If you’re just a few desks or an office away from whomever you have a question for, a few minutes of in-person conversation can be a great alternative to the back-and-forth of email and long email strings. And will likely be faster.
Nintex Drawloop Account Manager Raymond Cabral says he picks up the phone whenever possible.
“To truly minimize email, I make a phone call,” Ray says. “A six-response email chain can usually be addressed with a 5-minute phone call.”
Suki is a fan of Skype. In fact, all the Nintex partners he works with know how to reach him on Skype and reach out to him there first instead of via email. He estimates that by communicating via online Skype conversations – and organizing his Outlook – he saves about 20 percent of his time in any given week.
“My personal feeling is we don’t make enough use of IM capabilities, which are crucial in helping me contain the amount of time it takes to get things resolved,” he says. “It means I can use the time more efficiently.”
Karina is a fan of face-to-face conversations, especially in instances where intent could be misconstrued. And if you find yourself getting frustrated by an email thread, that’s a certain sign to step away from email and have an in-person conversation, she says.
“The majority of what we communicate isn’t verbal,” she says. “It’s far too easy to misinterpret and misunderstand things in email. You have to figure out, ‘What portion of time am I just responding to people on email and when am I actually talking to people?’ Because that’s how relationships get built.”
3. Schedule times to Check Email
In “4 Tips to Better Manage Your Email Inbox,” Entrepreneur contributor Jacqueline Whitmore recommends checking your email at scheduled times each day rather than checking it every time you hear that familiar ping or see that email alert on your screen.
“The amount of time required for reviewing email and replying will depend on how frequently you check messages and how many you typically receive,” she writes. “Some entrepreneurs find it more effective to dedicate 10 minutes every hour to email. Others prefer to only check email just two or three times a day.”
One reason why this is a better email management strategy than checking every email as it arrives? Recent research suggests that multi-tasking isn’t realistic and that a distraction – such as that of checking an incoming email – takes much more time to recover from than previously believed.
The Atlassian study found it took 16 minutes. ’The Wall Street Journal article “Workplace Distractions: Here’s Why You Won’t Finish This Article” references a University of California, Irvine, study on digital distraction. It found that it can take some 23 minutes for a worker to return to the original task after such a distraction.
4. Embrace Technology That Can Assist
Ray dictates his emails whenever possible, using Siri when he’s on a Mac and Cortana when on a PC – “It makes things way faster.”
Suki uses Inbox by Google on his mobile phone and appreciates being able to set a reminder to reply to an email.
“If I’m on the road and I get an email I can’t reply to, I can set a reminder on my phone to reply to it after an hour,” he says.
Nintex technology also can help ease people’s email overload, with features like LazyApproval in Nintex Workflow, which enables people to approve or reject a request by just typing a single word via email. And Nintex Drawloop Document Generation, which lets people automatically create documents instead of emailing a document back and forth for edits and approvals.
Nintex Senior Product Manager Joshua Tan says the Nintex workflow platform offers a few other features that act as email overload-busters. The technology “helps remove the noise from the Inbox and focuses them on what’s important.”
“If people need to email their superior for a leave approval or file an expense claim, they can automate that process,” Josh says. “They can even automate document reviews by placing it in SharePoint and having a workflow run off of that. So no more emailing back and forth. And with the Nintex Mobile app, you can respond through the app and that reduces emails.”
Ready to automate your document generation process with Nintex Drawloop? Click here for your free 30-day trial!