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9 steps to win at email

Email is one of the greatest and worst inventions of all time. It has the potential to increase your productivity to no ends, or to drown you in a completely unmanageable tidal wave, where you will suffer ‘death by correspondence’.

Some famous entrepreneurs and businesspeople, notably Tim Ferris from the Four Hour Work Week, advocate ditching email completely. However, although this is possible for those who have managed to get their business to run autonomously using an army of outsourced labour, for most of us, living email-free is not a possibility.

So, here are our 10 tips to make your emailing life a little easier.

1. No spam. Not all email providers are created equally. Definitely use one that has an excellent spam filter so that junk mail never even lands in front of your eyes. Few things are as tedious as sorting through mountains of junk to find that one important message.

2. Method. Work your way from top to bottom, one email at
a time. Open each email and dispose of it immediately. Your choices: delete, archive; reply quickly; put on your to-do list; do the task immediately; or finally, forward. Notice that for each option, the email is ultimately archived or deleted. Never leave them sitting there. And do this quickly, moving on to the next email. If you practice this enough, you can plow through a couple dozen messages very quickly.

3. Batch work. Some jobs accumulate lots of small tasks that require quick, 10–15 second emails to respond to. If you have a lot of these throughout the day, you can create a rule or folder for them, and deal with them all at once. This kind of ‘batching’ is particularly useful if you need to process a lot of payments, or sign off a lot of similar requests throughout the day.

4. No “to do’s”. Try not to mix your email up with things you would put on your ‘to do’ list. If you leave emails with an action required in your inbox, you will end up using your inbox as a de facto ‘to do’ system. Instead, make a note of the action required in an external ‘to do’ system, whether this is a dedicated app, or just a notebook or post-it, and then archive the email. You will still have to do the task, but at least it’s now on a legitimate list rather than keeping your inbox full.

5. Rules. If you use any shopping sites or subscribe to mailing lists, you’ll quickly notice your inbox getting inundated with messages from various subscriptions that you’ve unwittingly agreed to, as well as notifications and confirmations. Create ‘rules’ to immediately archive these to a relevant folder so you can deal with them in a more logical fashion. If rules seem a bit complicated, you could always create another email to use exclusively for subscriptions.

6. FAQs. One method of avoiding emails with common or repetitive questions is to write an FAQ section on your company website based on things your clients and customers ask you most. Even if you still get messages asking the same questions, instead of wasting time on a response, you can simply refer the sender to your website. You’ll likely notice your inbox becomes significantly lighter once you have a good FAQ section in place.

7. For the brave among you... Don’t be afraid to delete or archive emails. Ask yourself “what’s the worst that can happen?” If the answer isn’t too bad, just delete it and move on. You can’t reply to everything, so just choose the important ones and reply to those.

8. Few words. Once you’ve filtered down to the emails you’ve chosen to reply to, don’t blow all the hard work you’ve done
by writing essay responses to everything. Limit yourself to five sentences as a maximum, and remember that bullet points are your friend. Keep your message short and powerful – you’ll be surprised about how much clearer and more confident you will sound.

9. Do it all. Like with batching similar emails to get them done more efficiently, your whole email process should be a batch operation. When you open your inbox, go through everything until you’re done, and it’s cleared. Make it a rule: No email left behind. Deal with them all!

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