Time Management

Email: 5 Ways to Stop Wasting Time and Start Increasing Productivity

Reader Resource

Position yourself for growth in 2017—join us live at the Entrepreneur 360.
Flash Sale—save up to $200 on registration. Ends Thursday. Secure Your Seat »

Whether it’s used to communicate with colleagues, find potential customers, schedule meetings or share content, email has become one of the most important tools in any professional’s arsenal. The problem is, it’s also become one of the biggest distractions in the office.

Related: Productivity Lifesaver: The 5-Sentence Email

In its 2014 Wasting Time At Work Survey, Salary.com surveyed more than 750 working professionals and found that 78 percent of employees were wasting at least 30 minutes per day at work, with email accounting for a big chunk of that time.

And, in an August survey asking 400 U.S.-based professionals about email usage, Adobe found that professionals reported using email more than anyone might expect -- so much so, in fact, that it’s safe to say Americans are addicted to it. On average, Adobe found that professionals use email for six hours a day, or 30-plus hours a week.

What does this mean for productivity at work?

According to CareerBuilder’s June survey of 2,175 hiring and HR managers across a variety of industries, cell phones -- typically used to check email -- and email itself were named two of the biggest productivity killers in the office. In other words, as helpful as it is, email is slowing professionals down.

Here are five ways to stop wasting time checking email and start increasing productivity:

1. Take advantage of apps.

Constantly checking email can be distracting and a tough habit to change, since the email icon is always there tempting the eye. That’s where productivity apps like Focus and Isolator come in.

These apps boost productivity by keeping the focus on the active window. Based on the user’s settings, the apps blur background windows, disable notifications, block email applications and more. So, instead of battling through a flurry of background activity and constant email notifications to finish a project, professionals can use apps like these to focus, and avoid going down the email rabbit hole.

While Focus and Isolator are available only for Mac, Windows users can check out Le Dimmer or Anti-Social for similar functionality.

2. Create an email schedule . . . and stick to it.

There’s some debate about how effective this strategy really is, but when used correctly, it can actually be a productivity booster. Checking email is an essential business process in today’s world, so it’s difficult to go for hours on end without checking it. The trick is to start with a schedule that won’t be impossible to stick to and adjust from there.

Consider using the Pomodoro Technique -- 25 minutes of focused work followed by a five-minute break -- to dictate email breaks. Once it’s time to check email, sort and prioritize which emails need to be answered first, and work with the most important first.

Related: 3 Time Management Tips That Will Improve Your Health and Productivity 

3. Gamify the email answering process.

Everyone loves playing games. Why not turn the the process of checking and answering emails into a game of its own?

That’s what the team at the Email Game has done. The Email Game integrates with Gmail and helps keep email management time to a minimum. It offers points for speedily organizing and addressing emails in an individual’s inbox. The faster that emails are dealt with, the more points the user gets.

If the Email Game doesn’t work for you, find other ways to turn email checking and answering into a game. By incentivizing efficient email management, professionals keep themselves on task, making more time for highest-priority work.

4. Stop using the inbox as a to-do list.

For many people, inbox is synonymous with a to-do list. The problem is, once an inbox is open, it’s hard to get to the next task without going through new emails first. These professionals often find themselves addressing emails over and over without ever really getting to work.

The solution? Use a real to-do list. Whether it’s writing down tasks on a pad of paper or downloading one of hundreds of different productivity apps, creating a real task list and adding those inbox-based tasks to it can save professionals from falling into the wormhole that is a full inbox.

5. Make checking more difficult for yourself.

There’s really no better way to slow down constant email-checking than making it more difficult to do.

For example, the Adobe study found that 88 percent of millennials use smartphones to check email, basically anywhere and everywhere. One way to combat this is to turn off email notifications on the phone, and bury the email app icon on the third page of an app folder, making it harder to access.

These email tips are a great place to start taking back the workday and boosting productivity. Try each of them and remember to constantly evaluate what’s working and what’s not in order, to really impact email habits in the office.

What email management strategies do you use to stay productive?

Related: The 15 Best Productivity Apps for Getting Things Done