5 Bad Email Habits That Waste Your Time

5 Bad Email Habits That Waste Your Time
Image credit: Stefan Lins | Flickr

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If you’ve checked your email recently, there’s a big chance you’ve felt overwhelmed or even frustrated by it.

We’ve all been there, and we all know how annoying this can be. For many people, this is even the sign that email just isn’t as good as it used to be, that email is broken. But what if email could be fixed just by changing the way you deal with it?

Here are five ways of overcoming the bad habits that rule your inboxes.

1. Overflowing your inbox with unnecessary information.

The desire to stay on top of everything is great. However, this will often lead you to subscribe to many unnecessary threads, newsletters and email notifications that crowd your inbox. You’ll spend more time triaging your inbox in search of the messages that truly matter than actually getting things done.

Instead, clean up your inbox

Keep only the things that truly matter to you and that you actually open on a regular basis. Everything else should go. Unsubscribe from all your newsletters in one click, with apps like Unroll.me, and stop the notifications you don’t need (or at least bundle them). Your inbox will feel lighter, and you will too.

Related: Make It Stop! 5 Techniques for Managing the Email Onslaught.

2. Using email for everything.

So many things could happen in your inbox, from emailing a colleague for a quick question to managing a complex project with meetings and document sharing. The question is though, should they happen there? Sometimes, there’s just a better way to do things.

Instead, use the right tool for the right purpose.

Chat on apps like HipChat or Slack for internal conversations with your colleagues. Use doodles or similar calendar apps for complex meeting scheduling. Store and share documents via specialized platforms (like Google Drive or Dropbox). Pick up your phone for urgent matters. Easy right?

3. Wasting time in your inbox.

Spending a lot of time in your inbox is necessary if your job is specifically to answer emails. However, if it isn’t, dealing with messages should take as little time as possible. Maybe checking your email every five minutes, writing the same replies over and over again and organizing your inbox manually just isn’t the best way to do that.

Instead, save time by making your inbox productive.

Start by setting specific times at which you want to check your email, depending on how important it is for you to reply quickly to them. Turn off all notifications outside of those dedicated email breaks so that nothing drags you back to your inbox.

Are you taking full advantage of all the features your inbox has to offer?Use keyboard shortcuts to fast-forward email processing and set up filters to automatically sort your messages for you. If you feel like you’re writing the same emails over and over again, create canned email templates to write standard emails in no time.

Related: 13 Ways to Get Your Emails Noticed and Opened

4. Writing long-winded emails.

 Brevity and clarity are as essential to a good email as correct grammar and spelling. If you let an email become long-winded, you risk making it difficult for the recipient to find out exactly what you are asking of them. The whole point of sending your email becomes void if the recipient decides not to bother decrypting your message.

Instead, practice good email etiquette.

Keep your message short and sweet, and pay particular attention to formatting. Keep in mind the person you’re writing to is busy. Your email needs to be as easy as possible to read (bullet points for example always help) and straight-to-the-point. Finally, make sure your subject line makes it clear what you want to talk about, and is easily searchable for later reference.

5. Never deleting or archiving emails.

Having a messy or cluttered inbox has consequences on your productivity and your efficiency. You’ll forget to do important things, and probably miss a couple of emails as important information gets lost amongst the dozens of messages you receive daily.

Instead, tidy it up!

Clear your inbox on a regular basis. A simple rule that can help is the rule of the “4Ds”. Every time you read an email for the first time, choose between doing it right now (if it doesn’t take much time), delegating it to the right person, deferring it (by adding it to a to-do list for example) or deleting it.

If you’re scared you’re going to lose something in your inbox, just remember that search bars have become quite powerful.

Whether we like it or not, email is still going to be around for a while. There’s nothing we can do about that. However, there’s a lot to change on the way we deal with it. In the end, a few simple steps might just make a huge difference in making our daily email checks a better experience for everyone.

Related: How to Manage Time With 10 Tips That Work