A 5-Step Solution to Cut Down Time Spent on Email

The founder of a startup accelerator's process to get through hundreds of emails per day.

learn more about Alex Iskold

By Alex Iskold

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I love to optimize things, and I am scheduling nut. I love planning my days and weeks. Most of my inspiration comes from Fred Wilson and Brad Feld (I've been reading their blogs for more than seven years) and they are incredibly organized with their lives.

I get 300 to 400 emails per day for Techstars (all of which I answer) and maybe 50 to 70 personal ones (most of which are spam). Most people who work in tech are like me. We all love tweets because they are short, but emails are not. What they are is stress.

However, the stress is not caused by the sheer volume of emails. It is caused by the chaotic way that we typically process them, and by the fact that new emails arrive while we are answering existing ones.

Related: How One Business Owner Gave Up Email for a Year

Here is a system that is incredibly simple, but can likely dramatically cut down on the amount of time you spend on email, along with the stress that it causes you.

1. Install Gmail Inbox Pause extension.

If you are not using Gmail, start using it, then get this extension.

2. Adopt this labeling system.

  • Quick emails: can be handled in less than 30 seconds
  • Garbage emails: can be just deleted on the spot
  • Important emails: take time and need to be answered often
  • Other emails: less important emails that don't need to be answered often

3. Block the following time spots in your calendar.

  • Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday: One hour to scan emails, answer quick ones, delete garbage ones and label the rest
  • Mon, Wednesday and Sunday: One hour after the hour above to answer emails labeled important
  • Friday: One hour after the hour of quick emails to answer emails labeled other

Related: 6 Ways to Better Manage Your Focus and Improve Your Productivity

4. Hit pause.

Sit back and relax. If you get bored, go read tweets or Entrepreneur.com. I prefer to actually work,

5. When the reminder to scan emails arrives, hit unpause.

All new emails load, and you go through them for one hour. You answer quick ones, delete garbage ones and then label the rest. My scan hour is 2 to 3 p.m. You can do this whenever, of course, but I like to keep mornings clean and email free. When you are done, go back to step four.

Thats pretty much it. A few points:

  • It is important to stack the times as I did above, because if you don't have a ton of new emails, then you get to important ones faster, and likely get yourself some free time.
  • If you find that one hour is not enough, keep adding 30 minutes to each spot. It really should be enough because you are solely focused on the emails.
  • Set the rule that you are actually busy during this time, and treat this as a meeting you can't get out of.
  • Note that you won't see emails on your mobile phone either.
  • If you are expecting urgent emails, you can hit unpause. Obviously, if you do it all the time, the whole system fails.
  • Pausing is super important, as it totally reduces stress.
  • I try to avoid starring emails.

I would love to get your feedback. What worked and didn't work for you? Do you manage your emails differently than I do? Please share in the comments section below.

This article was written by a member of the AlleyNYC contributor network. AlleyNYC is one of the world's largest innovation hubs, helping foster the growth of startups in its flagship location in New York City. Entrepreneur Media is a partner and investor in AlleyNYC. If you would like to learn more about AlleyNYC and how to apply for membership visit here.

Related: 4 Tips to Better Manage Your Email Inbox

Alex Iskold

Entrepreneur, Investor, Managing Director of Techstars in NYC

Alex Iskold is the managing director of Techstars in New York City. Previously Iskold was founder/CEO of GetGlue (acquired by i.tv), founder/CEO of Information Laboratory (acquired by IBM) and chief architect at DataSynapse (acquired by TIBCO). An engineer by training, Iskold has deep passion and appreciation for startups, digital products and elegant code. He likes running, yoga, complex systems, Murakami books and red wine -- not necessarily in that order and not necessarily all together. He actively blogs about startups and venture capital at http://alexiskold.net.

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