Last night, I slept on time, made a todo list for this morning with 3 most important things, wake up on time, had a superb morning coffee, logged into coffee, opened the mailbox and bammm… spent whole day replying to emails. I lost whole day replying to emails, I still have those 3 most important things in my todo list, I am feeling sad, demotivated and frustrated.
Do you go through same situation?
If No, then have a look at Fun Projects I did, and come back to this post the day you feel similar frustration.
For rest of you, who reached to this statement, there is a way out. There is beautiful greener, full of laughter and happiness world on other side, and let me take you there 🙂
The technique I am going to discuss is not something which I developed, but it is one of the standard ones which many smart people are using for years. And I know after reading this you are going to check the credibility of the technique discussed on Google.
Let’s go back to this morning first. So I opened my mail box, and there were 8 emails which were lying there for me to respond to. I just thought, I will take 30 mins to read and respond to these emails, but ended up spending 1 hour to read, discuss, and finding more details around those emails. By the time I responded to these emails, there were 4 new emails in my mailbox. And you know the drill.
On rare lucky days, when I am lucky and there are no or few emails to respond to, I get a chance to work on things I am supposed to work on. But then in few minutes, there is a familiar sound, “ding”, you got a new email from your boss or client, who is asking for some reply or want you to respond to some thread. Once you switch context, it takes you some good minutes to come back to work, as your mind suggests you many other things before you come back to work: have a coffee, check Instagram, check notifications on mobile…
So, understand this: Emails are a productivity killer until you learn to properly manage and learn techniques to manage it.
One of the popular techniques (ahhh! finally the hype I was creating is coming to end) is Email Batching. I came across this technique in the book “The 4-hour workweek” by Timothy Ferris. And you know, once you see something, you start seeing it everywhere. So now when I am reading any productivity blogs or youtube videos related to email management, I find everyone talking about this technique.
What is Email batching?
- Read and respond to emails two times a day.
- Schedule a proper time in the calendar if possible to process emails.
- When processing emails, try to process similar types of email at the same time.
- Delete or move the responded emails to a separate folder.
The concept of email batching is simple, if you search google, it is based on the concept of batching similar work together to improve your productivity. When you batch similar types of work together, your mind is not switching context much and processing similar kinds of information, and hence working efficiently without losing focus. Plus of course, you are removing time waste your brain does throughout the day if you plan to read and reply to emails popping in your mailbox.
What about your boss or client trying to reach out to you?
One thing I have learnt in my 15+ years of experience is that everything can wait, people do create pseudo pressure to get their work done faster or earlier than it is required to be done.
Secondly, for most of the emails we get and plan to reply to, we generally make mental notes to reply to it later after doing some groundwork for it. So anyways we are not replying to these emails immediately.
People who have real emergency they don’t email you, they generally call you. And even if they send you email, and you don’t reply they will find a way to reach out to you.
And still don’t worry, if by email batching your general efficiency is improved and are delivering more, your manager and clients will generally be happy and will be happy to ignore 1 or 2 hours delay of emails.
For me, I generally check it in the afternoon at 1 PM and in the evening at 5 PM, before I close my laptop. I do plan to reduce this frequency to only once per day over a few weeks.
AND TURN OFF EMAIL NOTIFICATIONS, they are annoying.
Your brain is smarter than you realized
You know what, this reduced frequency of processing emails have actually helped me to improve my speed and quality of the reply.
Since my brain knows that this is the only time I have allotted to reply to emails, I have to reply, I can’t procrastinate replying by saying to myself I will reply to this later and forget it, till I get a nasty mail back asking for an update.
The Game Changer: I generally reply with if-else conditions in emails. So for example if I am replying to my boss, it might look like:
What I understood from your mail is that you are asking if this work is already done, then the answer is no, it is in Progress. It is going to take another 5 days if I work alone. If I can get another hand to work with me, then this work can be done in the next 3 days.
If you were just meant to enquire about high level details of requirements, then you can find it here: <link to your document>
What about emails which need some research before reply?
Being honest never hurts. What I do in such cases is that I quickly reply to such emails with an honest answer, that I have to spend more time finding all facts and figures before I send you an update.
Then I set up a proper time in the calendar for the same day or next day to work on preparing data for that email.
My Emails in such cases looks like:
Apologies, but I may need more time to do my research and collect data before I answer what you have asked for. I just want to give you the right information and avoid any confusion and give you more reasons to worry about it.
In case you feel there is an emergency and you need this data right away, feel free to call me at my mobile +91-9711169825, and I might be able to give you a brief idea but that might not be accurate or complete.
I really appreciate your understanding and patience.
Kindly expect my reply by tomorrow afternoon.
Please remember to always be polite and humble on emails or in general conversations. You never know what other person situation is and what emotional state they are in.
Should I setup Automatic Reply?
Well it is a good idea, if you setup an automatic reply on incoming emails. Don’t shy away from telling email sendee that you are working on some critical tasks and hence checking your emails during noon and evening, but yes do provide alternative ways to reach out to you in case of emergency.
If possible you can also get an agreement with your superior or manager that since you are working on high priority & time-critical tasks, if you give your superior reference to reach out to for email-sender in case of emergency or quick information.
Here is an example:
Thanks for reaching out to me, and I hope you are doing best today.
Unfortunately I have too many tasks to finish at end, and therefore there might few hours of lag before I reply to your mail. But I definetly will reply be end of today.
In case of emergency feel free to call me at my mobile +91-9711169825 or reach out to my manager: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I really appreciate your understanding and patience.
Bullet Points on Email Batching:
- Turn off mail notifications.
- Schedule an automatic reply for every day if possible, when you are not looking at emails.
- Keep your mailbox off or closed and open it only at the scheduled time.
- Schedule a specific time for processing emails in your calendar.
- If replying to an email requires some research, at least send a humble and polite reply: that I will come back to you regarding this by tomorrow.