4 Email Strategies to Boost Productivity

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“Email response time is the single best predictor of whether employees are satisfied with their boss.” – Dan Pink

When I read this quote a few months ago, I let out an audible groan.  Keeping up with email is my Achilles heel.  I know it is important, but I put email on the backburner to focus on people-centered tasks during the school day.  However, Pink’s statement helped me better understand the critical connection between staff morale and email response time. After reading this I reflected on ways to bolster my inbox management, and…I came up with nothing.  I mean, I get 150 emails a day and frankly, it’s exhausting. So, I continued to muddle through my inbox and bury my guilt knowing someone was irritated by my delayed response … they probably even emailed their displeasure, and I overlooked it.

I’m happy to report I recently embraced several new strategies to bolster my email skills. Like all of my great ideas, I borrowed them from someone else. Recently, I read The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss.  Ferriss’ fundamental premise it to leverage the Internet, automation, and minimal direct involvement to live life to its fullest.  Ferriss counsels his readers to free up their schedule by minimizing time draining tasks such as email. I was skeptical, but the four strategies listed below helped me reduce stress and boost productivity.

Batch EMail
I no longer monitor my email account throughout the day. I check it at lunch and 4:00 p.m. That’s it. In the past, I would monitor continuously. Collecting email throughout the day seemed counterintuitive, but it has allowed me to be more efficient and devote my full attention to the task at hand. When I do check email, I’m laser-focused and get caught up as quickly as possible (I limit both sessions to around 20 minutes).
I initially thought, “but what if I miss an important email, or what if there is an emergency?” I found that people will get in touch with me if there is a real emergency; I’m only a phone call or text away.

Be Specific When Responding

Email was designed for brief, two-way correspondence. It is not intended for ongoing conversation. This occurs whenever a meeting is scheduled through email.

“We need to meet before our presentation next week. Will Monday at 1:00 work for everyone?”

“I can’t meet Monday, but I can meet Tuesday.”

“I’m out of town Tuesday, but I can meet Wednesday. Morning is best.”

“I can meet Wednesday, but only from 9:30-10:00. What presentation?”

We are four emails into the conversation and still do not have a meeting date. This can be remedied by sending a message ladled with specific information.

“We need to meet before our presentation next week. Please let me know if the following dates work with your schedule: Monday at 1:00 p.m., Tuesday between 2-4:00 p.m., or Thursday from 8-11:00 a.m. If you have a conflict, please respond with two alternative dates and times.”

It takes more time to write this type of message, but you save a ton of time on the back-end. This strategy has dramatically improved my response time by reducing the total number of messages I receive on a daily basis.

Turn Off Phone Notifications

When I committed to answering email twice a day, phone notifications would lure me like a Siren’s song. Stress would build with each notification; I would hear the chime and see the unanswered email total steadily rise. So I just turned the notifications off. You will be surprised to learn that life exists without email notifications. With fewer distractions, I am more present and less annoyed by the latest email containing bad or frustrating news.
I go to a lot of meetings, and when I look around, I typically observe people getting caught up on email. Why gather as a group if everyone is going to stare at a screen and clean up their inbox? Stop monitoring email and start engaging. My attention and overall mood have increased without phone notifications.

Empower Others

As I reflected on lessons learned from the 4-Hour Work Week, none were more impactful than the need to empower others. My overflowing inbox was often the direct result of my management style. If you insist on approving most decisions yourself, you will create a decision-making bottleneck and will be inundated with texts, phone-calls, and emails.
The solution is empowering others. Why hire people and not let them do their job? This doesn’t mean you can’t be in the loop, but it does mean you need to (a). define roles, and (b). communicate clearly.  The email below provides an example.

“Jill, I received your email requesting curriculum work-time. I agree the Science department needs additional curriculum time before the end of the year. I have copied Mr. Jones (building principal) on this email. Please visit with Mr. Jones to find a convenient time to schedule this. I only request this be done after state assessment and it not be held on a Monday or Friday because it is typically difficult to find substitutes. Thanks for all you do!”

It’s as simple as that. I’ll acknowledge the email is detailed and takes time to write, but it allows you to automate the process after you approve the request. You could even ask the group send you a calendar invite, so you are aware of the meeting date.

In conclusion, these ideas are not earth-shattering, but they’ve allowed me to take control of my schedule and my inbox. Email is a tool and should work for you, not the other way around.

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