Seemed like an appropriate title for someone who isn’t really sure what a hack even means but knows that taking these actions, will make you more productive and enjoy your daily time more.
So here it is…
Please stop with the emails.
We need to work toward eliminating the majority of our emails and we need to write better emails. This from the woman who used to receive hundreds of emails a week and sent the longest emails in the history of the world (this may not be an exaggeration).
1. Stop using emails as a conversation.
There are so many better tools for this that at this point I don’t really care what you choose as long as it works for you and the majority of who you’re communicating with most of the time. Nearly all email conversations are between team members, contractors, clients or vendors you regularly speak with. Get this on a better system.
Benefits: you’ll save significant amounts of time, you don’t have to formally start and end conversations, you’ll no longer wake up with a full inbox or inbox anxiety, it’s a lot easier to find things, you can value add to clients by existing within their team ecosystem, you can have more fun if that’s your style (hello GIFs and taco emoji), you can send stuff straight to your other systems (items on your to-do app, into your project management system, recorded as a sales opportunity etc), you can view things easier (thanks to a whole lot of nice embedding) and you can post things like code snippets (syntaxed).
Extra benefit: it tends to facilitate much better conversations and we simply don’t do our best work if we’re bouncing around between 100 emails all the time.
Read: Want to see more detail on exactly how I reduced my emails? Check out this post on how I eliminated 90% of my email.
2. Write better emails
When you do need to write emails, write better ones.
For each email, keep these things front of mind:
1. What do I want them to know?
2. What do I want them to do?
3. How do I want them to feel?
4. Have I kept this as concise as possible?
Write with those things always in mind. Structure your emails in logical sequencing and under sub-headers so it’s easier to read and understand. Always outline what should happen next.
Keep it kind, sleep on crappy emails for a night before you reply, stay measured & calm when angry and infuse with simplicity and ease of reading where possible. Remember that your words are in writing and that you don’t need any more crap in your life. Keep it professional and where you need to, stand your ground kindly & firmly.
Communicate clearly what the next steps are or what action now needs to happen and by whom.
Bonus: it’s likely that your use of ‘just’, ’unfortunately’, and ‘sorry, but’ is filler and not necessary. You can still be kind without them!
3. Write shorter emails
Using the above formula should eliminate a lot of filler and get to the point quickly. You can also use this one key line at the end of your emails to help get to an action:
Unless I hear otherwise…
Unless I hear otherwise, I’ll proceed with option A as per previous discussions.
Unless I hear otherwise, I’ll proceed with finalizing the logo design.
Unless I hear otherwise, I’ll inform Elaine of this decision so we can proceed.
Unless I hear otherwise, I’ll get back to my primary priorities/duties and leave that action with you.
Obviously use at your discretion and within reason but this ensures you can keep going and your email-ee doesn’t need to reply back to you, unless ‘otherwise’ is the case. Burden off you both.
Want to write even shorter emails? Include a little link to three, four or five sentences in your footer and only write that many sentences. You can reply to every email, stay professional, be kind and be super speedy.
Tip: An easy tip for saving time is to use a text expander. Create little shortcuts for long service names, phrases or sentences you often use and then utilize the shortcut.
4. Schedule email time.
Most of us aren’t in a job role where we actually need to be answering emails immediately and all day long. So unless you do have a job where this is essential to executing your role and one of your primary responsibilities & job functions*, close down your inbox.
Set one or two times a day where you open your emails and action them. For example, I do this by opening our emails at around 10am and then again in the late afternoon where needed.
Tip: if you are sometimes required in urgent situations offer whoever needs to know this an alternative method to get in touch with you if it’s urgent. For example we have an urgent email address (urgent@company) during holiday periods. You can set that up to be sent to you in an Urgent Slack channel or via SMS for example. Or you can install that email – and that email only – on your phone so it alerts you when an urgent mail comes through.
*I worked at a couple of mining companies and felt I always needed to reiterate that their primary function was to pull rocks out of the ground. Remember to check what yours is if you feel email is it.
5. Set another priority for your morning.
Rather than opening your email, give yourself another priority. Make it clear with yourself (and whomever else needs to know) that your first 2 hours of work are dedicated to actually working. Whether that be client work, the most complicated tasks on your to-do list that day, product development, meetings – whatever it might be, make it a doing task. Email is not a doing task. It’s a task that makes you feel like you’ve done something, without actually having done anything. It’s motion, rather than action.
Tip: block this time in your calendar. For example, each Monday to Thursday your 8am – 10am is blocked off. Your inbox is shutdown and you know whether you’re tackling a to-do list, a project or writing. This is focus time. Put on your headphones, play that music, do whatever you need to do to concentrate, distraction free.
6. Remove email apps from your phone.
This also goes for most other apps too. Take them off. I promise you, the world will not stop spinning. And to replace all that checking, refreshing, replying, distracting and FOMO, you’ll have space to do what you need to do. And that will always make you feel better.
7. Filter emails
On some email clients you’ll already have this automatically setup (like Gmail). On others you can establish it. Or you can create different email accounts or communication channels.
For example, I personally have a separate email address that is used for newsletters only. I can choose when I go in and check it and read things. I regularly unsubscribe to writings I no longer enjoy and I keep my list minimal. I also have a Slack channel that is subscribed to a number of RSS feeds in the tech & startup world. The channel is on silent. When I have a moment every few months when I’d like to update myself, I can go in and checkout my favorite reads and links from there.
8. Email templates at the ready
A lot of us have recurring themes in emails, questions we’re answering in similar ways or scenarios we find ourselves in that we’ve been in before or wish we could do better next time.
For all these, we can have email scripts ready to go. Keep them in your Drafts folder, as PDFs for your team, or in your note-taker app of preference so you can copy, paste and tweak them as necessary.
Benefit: saves you time, reduces your doubt about the email and stops you checking it multiple times as you’ve already used it successfully.
9. Other things you can try
Here’s a small list of ideas:
- An automatic responder answering frequently asked questions.
- An automatic responder to call if urgent and advise when email is checked (including work/office hours).
- A ‘touch it once’ rule – when it comes time to open your inbox, you read the email and reply then & there. You only ever ‘touch it once’.
- An administrator/assistant/project manager who deals with a bulk of the emails.
- Funnel straight into a Project Management, CRM or Helpdesk system (like Trello, Contactually, Zendesk or Zoho) and then organize & reply to emails in and out from there.
- Send an audio message – record yourself on your laptop (i.e. QuickTime – wear your earphones with microphone!) or phone (voice recorder) and send that mp3 attached to email.
- Send a video message – record yourself on QuickTime on your laptop or using a service like eyeJot and send that through.
- Pick up the phone – I know, it’s old school. But sometimes it’s a lot easier. Determine if it’s worth interrupting someone else’s flow for this and then make the call.
- Jump in the Slack channel and reply there instead to encourage clients off email or use the voice or video call option in there.
- Text – I very rarely do this, but in other industries or for other people it makes complete sense. Use if you love it and can switch it off (i.e. silence alerts or conversations in the messaging app).
Email can wait. Meaningful work, and life, cannot.