Email Productivity Tips & Tricks

Here are some quick "hacks" that help manage email.

Reduce Distractions from Email

Email notifications can take you out of your "flow". Even when you're intentionally checking email, new emails coming in can distract you from the email you're currently reading or responding to. Yet it's often impractical to close your inbox even when you're not checking email, because something important might happen or your email is integrated with your calendar and you rely on the meeting reminders.

What you can do is customize your notifications. For example:

  • Only allow email notifications when the email is from your boss or a client
  • Automatically schedule times for "do not disturb" mode

If you want to try disabling notifications, but are worried you'll miss something: Setup an auto-responder with an alternative contact method. For example:

I'm working on a big project right now and not checking email. If this is urgent, please call ...

Raise Important Emails to the Top

Filter out "FYI" emails with a rule to put emails where you're not on the To: line into a separate folder. Your inbox will instantly be more focused on emails that require action.

Other rules might also be useful to raise the visibility of important emails, for example:

  • Mark emails from specific people as high/low priority
  • Move mailing lists and newsletters to a lower-priority folder
  • Ignore specific threads where the use of "Reply All" has gotten out of hand

Schedule Email Timeboxes

Limit time spent in email to one or two timeboxes per day. Prefer scheduling this time for the second half of the day so that responses to your email don't trigger disruptions throughout the day. If you must check email at the beginning of your day, consider the "send later" feature as another means of preventing disruptions.

During each timebox, focus on getting through as many emails as possible using the 4D time management technique: For each email that require action:

  • Do it. Respond right away if it will take less than five minutes.
  • Delegate it. Respond right away and make it clear who's responsible.
  • Defer it. Schedule a time to respond to that email specifically.
  • Delete everything else.

Replace Emails with Links

Don't write emails, email links. Rather than responding to emails with more email, write your response in any sharable location. A blog post, a shared document, a wiki, a knowledge base, whatever. Then respond with a link to that location. If that link is shared only once, it saved you from responding to another email.

Declare Email Bankruptcy

Delete all unread emails older than six months (or one year, if that's too scary). You were never going to respond anyway.

Broader Topics Related to Email Productivity

4D Time Management

A triage scheme for new tasks: Delegate, Do, Defer, Drop

Personal Productivity

Tips and resources to improve personal productivity

Email Productivity Knowledge Graph