As a professional, chances are you get tons of emails. Be they important notices from analytics tools that you use to track your key performance metrics, newsletters from sites that are relevant to your field, or outreach from salespeople and other professionals in your industry, you’re probably getting a couple dozen emails each day. Those emails can rank anywhere from total spam to critical information.
How you read and respond to each email you receive can make a big difference toward your general work productivity. Spending time on every email you get can be just as harmful as ignoring them all.
Here are 4 email habits that might be hurting you at work, and what you can do to fix them.
Paying attention to every ping
If you give every single email you receive equal time of day, chances are you’re spending a lot of time on reading messages and not a lot of time on working. Most of the emails you get are likely to be unimportant spam or newsletters. But emails hog your attention regardless. When you get a notification on your phone or in your browser, you’re more likely to look at what you received than not. Even those short few seconds of distraction can get you out of a working groove.
To mitigate this problem with newsletters and pointless emails, you can either start unsubscribing from everything. But more importantly, not every important email you get needs an immediate response. The problem with waiting, however, is that in the time it takes you to get to it, you tend to forget which email is which, and what each is about. That's where email labels come in handy. Start labeling all your emails in different categories and with different colors. If you get an email that is related to design, give it a "Design" label with its own color.
Do this for every email you get, but especially for ones that you need to reply to. Leave them unread and give them a favorite, or funnel them in a "Needs Response" folder, so that they stand out from your crowded inbox. That way, rather than going into each message and re-reading it to get a hint of what it's about, the label and subject line will immediately remind you of what you need to reply to. Your inbox will become more organized, and your responses will be easier to compile.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are professionals who completely turn off all notifications during crunch time. When they’re feeling in the zone, they don’t want anything to take their attention away from work, so they close every email tab, mute their phones, and ignore any and all communication. While this may seem like a smart idea at the beginning, it can cause more problems than you might expect.
Radio silence is a big cause of miscommunication in teams. It can result in you working on the same exact thing one of your co-workers has already started doing. Instead of radio silence, consider setting up priority notifications on your smartphone. Go into your phone’s notification settings and find the setting for interruptions or priority notifications. There, you’ll be able to set exactly which apps can ping you during your work hours, or whenever you turn on Priority Mode. That way you won’t be looking at your phone for that Candy Crush notification, but you will be aware when you get an important email.
Keep your computer completely dedicated to work and employ radio silence there, but leave your phone’s priority notifications turned on and have it next to you so that you don’t miss anything critical.
Another email habit that can drain your time is putting too much effort into every single email you write. It’s an annoying habit that many of us develop, as we pay attention to every single word we write, the structure of every sentence we compile, and the potential hidden or unintended messages that we’re trying to avoid.
Caring too much about how you sound in an email can leave you paralyzed, struggling to decide when to hit send. Stop worrying so much and just hit send once you’re generally comfortable with your wording. Taking extra time to struggle in writing an email reply to your boss will only end in you sending what should have been a quick reply far too late.
An easy way to fix overthinking is to generally shorten and simplify your emails. You don’t have to use fancy words or phrases in a response. Just get your point across in as clear terms as possible. That way you’re not leaving any openings for misinterpretation. Use a tool like Hemingway when writing a response if you want to craft shorter, better sentences.
As bad as overthinking an email might be at draining your time, it’s worse to treat your emails as a thing to get done instantly. Responding with “k” to an email isn’t just unprofessional -- it also neglects to finish what might be an important conversation. Using shorthand and poor grammar will not only reflect poorly on you, but will also leave your colleagues, clients, and anyone who reaches out to you quite frustrated.
For the sake of respect both within and outside your company, take the effort to at least write out a sentence or two in response to important emails. Your responses don’t have to be long and intricate, and they can be just a sentence. They don’t have to be timely, either, but they should be done on the same day you got the message. This will get you used to typing out quick and courteous responses so that you can get right back to work with no further distractions.
Showing this courtesy will help you develop rapport with people rather than ruin your chances at working with them productively. Your work at hand may be the most important thing on your mind today, but you might need a quick response or help from a person you frustrated with your short replies tomorrow.