How we opt to use email is a very important part of both our business and personal lives. Not only do we have to find the right email client and the best Gmail apps for our specific needs, but there’s the overall management of the inbox.
In theory, that may seem simple, but for anyone who has a growing number of emails coming in every day, you know that keeping your inbox clean, organized and productive can be much easier said than done. If you even miss checking email for one day, things can turn pretty catastrophic fairly quickly.
So, how do you make your email work for you, and not the other way around? Let’s take some advice from 20+ business professionals on their favorite hacks to make using email more productive!
1. Don’t Mark Your Emails “Read” Right Away
When scanning through your emails, you may be tempted to take a quick peak and then save it for later. Well, we all know how THAT turns out. Instead, leave your emails marked UNREAD until you’re able to fully address them. That way, you won’t skip over them thinking you’ve already read them and have taken action.
According to Adam Garcia with The Stock Dork, “Many people make the unfortunate mistake of clicking on an email, reading it through, and then doing — nothing. So, the email moves further to the bottom of your inbox list, while you may be missing out on valuable opportunities. Plus, there is something to be said about timely responses!”
2. Schedule Specific Times for Email
Set aside certain times to read and reply to emails, and work through your entire unread emails during these periods of the day. If you keep stopping your work to read every email that comes in, you’ll be so interrupted that you’ll never get anything accomplished. A study done at the University of California says that it takes over 20 minutes for someone to get back into the “zone” after an interruption.
“Dedicate an hour in the morning and another in the afternoon to read and reply to emails,” adds Lacy Summers with Crush the PM Exam. “Clients or other team members can send a Slack message or even make a quick call if they need immediate responses outside of those hours.”
Ray Blakney with PodcastHawk also adds, “To maintain email inbox productivity, you can also batch your emails into times and only check them during those times. If you can’t do it yourself, find a free email blocker to do it for you. Also, use email tracking like Mailtrak to see who is reading your emails, as you won’t waste time on unnecessary follow-ups.”
3. Use the Stars in Gmail
“Star” your emails with different colored stars so that you can color-code your messages, without sending them to a folder where you may forget about them. “I find that moving everything into folders can sometimes be a little too ‘out of sight – out of mind’ for me, notes Hamza Ghayas with GSD Lovers. “I prefer using folders for storage, not for emails that still require my attention. By noting them with color-coded stars, I can quickly glance at my inbox and see what needs to be done. You can easily set this from the General tab of Gmail’s settings.”
Hamna Amjad with Physicians Thrive also mentions, “You can organize your inbox using several versions of ‘Stars’ available in Gmail. Generally, only the yellow star is enabled by default, and most users are unaware of the other 12 options. You can filter out your urgent, important, non-urgent and other messages quickly by assigning the right star icon to them. For instance, you can use the’!’ icon if a message is urgent. Later, when you wish to find only specific types of Stars, you can search for the Star by its predefined name.”
Pretty cool, right?
4. Use Priority Email
You can turn on Gmail’s Priority Inbox feature to separate promotional emails from those actually coming in from colleagues or clients. “Some people are not fond of this feature, says Thilo Huellmann with Levity.ai, “But I’ve found that it allows Gmail to go ahead and sort my incoming mail for me — without ever clicking another button. Simply go into your email, click Settings, then Inbox type, and go to Priority Inbox. There, you can customize your settings.”
5. Use Templates
Create email templates, so that you can easily respond with standardized replies for the topics that you reply to most frequently. This can be a real game-changer when you are constantly replying to the same types of emails with the same information.
“However, your templates aren’t automatically enabled,” reminds Mike Dragan with Stream.Live. “In your Gmail, go to Settings, then to Advanced, Templates and then click Enable. Next, compose your email as normal, and then save it as a template by clicking the three dots. It’s really that simple!”
6. File Your Email Immediately
When you’re busy, it’s easy to let your inbox rage out of control and, unfortunately, this can lead to disorganization and missed emails which result in missed opportunities. The first thing you need to do is to organize your emails into folders and sub-folders, as this is the first step to getting your box in order.
As soon as an email has been read, it should be actioned and filed immediately. If you’re not able to take immediate action, it’s a good idea to have a pending folder for easy access to ongoing projects.
“These days,” adds Andrew Martins with LV BET, “There are some great apps that will help you to organize your inbox, and my personal favorite is SaneBox, as it’s relatively inexpensive and easy to use, and it really helps me to get on top of my inbox and, therefore, stay productive.”
7. Unsubscribe From Unwanted Mail Immediately
“I receive, on average, around 150 emails a day, so it’s really important to me to keep my inbox neat and tidy,” according to Neal Taparia of Spider Solitaire Challenge. “To do this, I’m in the habit of unsubscribing immediately to anything which isn’t helpful to me, as this cuts down the incoming traffic. Next, I have a system of folders and subfolders which allow me to store things away and find them again easily.”
A good rule of thumb is that nothing should stay in your inbox for longer than 24 hours — it’s either dealt with or filed away into a “To Do” folder. Additionally, use the Clean Email app to help stay in control of your inbox and, as already mentioned, allocate times during the day to read emails and avoid the distractions.
8. Use Google Drive to Save Time and Space
As Chris Luttrell with Hathorn Inspection Cameras has noticed, “Often, I get the same request for more information from plumbing companies interested in our inspection cameras. Instead of forwarding multiple attachments and links, I use a Google Drive and use a link in the body of the email.”
Free space in your Gmail account is limited. The more emails and large attachments you send, the sooner you will run out of that space.
The best way to combat this and get the most out of your Gmail account is to set up a Google Drive that is organized with attachments, photos and videos that you send out regularly. Now, instead of sending an email with large attachments over and over, you can include a link for the recipient to look through.
Not only does this save your Gmail space, but also the recipient will save space in their email inbox as well.
9. Write Now and Email Later With Schedule Send
“Whether I am just typing out thoughts for a future assignment or I want an email to hit my customer at just the right time, I often schedule out my emails for the future. Schedule send is a great functionality that Gmail offers,” muses Amanda Gall with GGGolf.
If you’re writing emails outside of regular working hours or need to send a future reminder to yourself, Schedule send is a tool in the toolbox. When you Schedule send, you can ensure emails reach colleagues or customers at the right time.
Follow these easy steps:
- Compose your email. Once done, click on the arrow on the right of the Send button in your Gmail.
- Click on “Schedule send.”
- Select the time and date you want the message to send.
- Once you’ve scheduled out the email you can now see a box called “Scheduled” and can view the scheduled email. You can also review, edit or cancel.
10. Utilize Keywords
First, set up at least one category for certain tasks, such as “marketing reviews” or “Project responses.” Then, use the Gmail filters function to automatically sort emails that have specific keywords (such as the name of the category or another keyword you choose) to those categories.
Once you have it set up, you can send yourself emails with specific keywords in the subject line in order to have them automatically sorted into categories for you to go through later. This provides an easy way to add items to your to-do list while on the go, as you can send yourself an email on mobile.
Choose specific or unusual keywords that emails coming in won’t have,” suggests Deborah Goldberg with ExpertInsuranceReviews.com, “And further refine the filter to make sure it only catches emails from you to yourself. When done right, you will be able to add projects easily to your category without them filling your inbox so that you can go through them at your leisure.”
11. Filter, and Then Filter Even More
Using filters is a great way of organizing your inbox without you having to spend a great deal of time in it. It automatically takes action on emails that match a certain filter. You can archive, star, mark as important, label or categorize emails.
To learn how, Marcu Clarke with Searchant suggests, “Open a message you wish to filter, click on the More button and select ‘Filter messages like these.’ Then from there, you can choose to filter messages by sender, subject, keywords, size and attachments. Once you’re done, click ‘Create filter’.”
Furthermore, filters are one of the best ways to improve your productivity with Gmail without using third-party apps or integrations. Filters help you create predetermined actions as soon as an email hits your inbox, so you can automatically mark them as read, send them to a specific folder, mark as important, etc.
“In my case,” says Petra Odak with Better Proposals, “I filter all emails so that those from Jira (our project management app) are marked as unread, and emails from team members are marked as important so I can look over them as soon as possible. Emails from our customer support tool (Zendesk) are always marked as a star. This way, I can be without opening Gmail for hours and when I open it in the evening, all the incoming mail is neatly sorted and ready for me to take action immediately. There is just one rule though — don’t have filters that are too broad, or you will miss important emails.”
12. Try Rapportive and Meistertask
While adding rules and folders can be a great first step towards email productivity, there are tons of additional plug-ins that you can use to more efficiently manage your inbox.
Tom Mumford with Undergrads LLC offers, “Two that I like are Rapportive and MeisterTask. MeisterTask integrates your email with your Meister account, allowing you to assign your emails to different tasks. You can manage your task boards and project timelines from the integration, allowing you to quickly find relevant emails, information, and contacts. On the other hand, Rapportive showcases information about the person you are emailing so that you can easily develop better relationships. When you open an email, it will show the contact’s Linkedin profile on the side, so you can easily reference shared personal information.”
13. Use Email for External Communication Only
While email is a good way to connect with people outside your company, it’s a poor way to communicate internally, especially these days. For much of our internal business communication, we need an ongoing conversation, and managing one through your email is ineffective with the risk of messages being lost or misplaced.
Instead,” advises Evan Tarver with Selling Signals, “Use an internal communication tool like Slack to conduct communication within the company. This way, you have a running history of your direct message conversations, as well as the ability to start channels or threads specifically related to only one topic, mitigating the chance you miss or lose messages or the thread of an entire conversation.”
“What’s more,” Traver continues,” Funneling internal communication through a tool like Slack can actually increase productivity and team cohesion, because it can better facilitate group conversation online. For those who use Microsoft Office products, it’s possible to use tools like Microsoft Teams. However, for those using G Suite or other options, Slack is an amazing resource.”
14. Built-In Project Management Visuals
For teams with a project management model or a customer service approach, built-in project management visuals make your email inbox a lot easier to manage, which makes your customer engagement more timely and efficient.
“Sortd is a Gmail add-on that helps you to organize your communications as an individual or as a team,” advises Shelby Hiter with TechnologyAdvice, “Allowing you to color code and sort your email threads in kanban-style charts. With this tool, you can track when emails are being opened, you can group together different email threads under common headers, you can create shared workspaces and task lists amongst your entire team, and you can watch which customer service queries have been closed or reopened.”
“From the customer service perspective,” adds Hiter, “Sortd gives your team full transparency into how email conversations are being handled by fellow team members and who is handling which tasks, which makes it easier for everyone to stay on the same page, even if they don’t all work in the same physical location. In many ways, Sortd gives you basic CRM functionality right in your Gmail inbox, allowing you to manage and regularly reach out to your contacts through both free and paid package options.”
15. Hit “Snooze”
One of the most under-rated features on Gmail is the “Snooze” button. If you like to keep your primary inbox at 0 unread, one of the most effective ways to do this is to snooze batches of emails relating to specific tasks.
Matt Benn with Soundplate offers a stellar example: “I will snooze three or four emails relating to the same thing so they all pop up again at a specific time when I am ready to deal with them. This helps keep everything organized but also means you can tackle all the related emails together and stay focused on that thing until it is complete instead of jumping around from project to project. This is a feature I use several times a day, every day. Usually snoozing mails for just a few minutes or hours but sometimes leaving unimportant mail for later in the day/week.”
16. Actually Process Your Mail
The number one thing to know about email is the difference between checking email and processing email.
Patty Kreamer with Productivity Uncorked explains, “We all check our email a thousand times a day – on our phone, tablet, computer, etc. But checking it only clutters your head and your inbox. Processing your email involves taking that next step of acting on it. When you process your email, you make a decision to either DELETE, ACT, FORWARD or FILE it.”
17. Use a Content Aggregator
Newsletters can be full of great content, but they can also clutter your inbox.
“Instead of subscribing to newsletters with your email address directly,” says Sarah Hartly, “Use a content aggregator tool like Feedly to keep up with all that awesome newsletter content, without making a mess of your inbox!
18. Categorize Your Inbox
The best way to have a productive inbox is to use tags and tiers for your inbox. Having emails sorted for easy follow-up and notes will make it easier for you to keep up on your inbox and see what you should be spending your time on going forward.
“For example,” suggests Catherine Way with Prime Plus Mortgages, “I have my inbox tagged to show what is and isn’t completed, what project it is for, and what stage it is in to be completed (such as in progress, under review and completed).”
19. Flag Your Emails
“There are many ways that a person can keep their inbox clean and productive,” according to Jacob Dayan with Community Tax. “It’s always best to organize them and put them in files, but something I found to be productive is flagging emails with the closest deadline. The first time opening an inbox can be extremely overwhelming, so I’ll go through and unsubscribe from anything needed and flag emails that need a response by the end of day. Once I go through those, I’ll move on to the next batch of emails that need a response. Organizing my emails through this method has helped take the pressure off of needing to respond to every email right away and has helped increase my productivity time.”
As you can see, there are numerous ways to keep your inbox ready to go for the day. Whether you decide to use the help of a tool, or simply use a particular process that works for you, what’s important is that you stick to it.
Have you ever returned from vacation to have 257 emails waiting for you — 257 emails for each day? It’s definitely NO fun. So, make keeping your inbox productive a part of your daily actions, and these organizational skills may even spill over into other parts of your business and personal life. Stranger things have happened!