A Super-Efficient Email Process

Posted May 30, 2012 by Marcy Twete in Life After Five
Everyone has a different system when it comes to email. And the big push isn’t necessarily which system you use, but just that you use a system of some sort. But if you Google “email organization”, the thread you’ll usually find is that it’s not wise to spend all day checking your email. Most experts recommend finding a few times a day to check and respond to email, and not keeping your email open and responding every time it dings. One expert, Peter Bregman, the author of “18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done“, gives us his stellar email plan on his recent article over at HBR, “A Super-Efficient Email Process.”

Here’s a bit of Peter’s process. Read more about HBR.

Typically I schedule 30 minutes in the morning, at mid-day, and in the afternoon to do email. Here’s how I use that time:

1. Send: I start my timer and begin by writing emails I had planned to send. This often includes follow-ups to meetings, thank-you notes, questions, and scheduling and other requests. I do this first so that if someone gets back to me immediately I have time to respond while I’m still in my 30-minute email period.

2. Delete: Next, I quickly glance through the “subject” and “from” lines on the emails in my inbox and immediately delete the ones I know I don’t want to waste time reading, including marketing emails and impersonal blasts I haven’t requested. This step just takes a few seconds but drastically reduces my email bulk.

3. Respond: I do my best to answer every single email that comes directly to me, even if it means just writing “Thank you.” Since picking through emails to choose which to answer first wastes time, I start with the most recent and work my way down. At this point I don’t click on any links in emails and I don’t read lengthy articles; I save that for step 5 below.

4. File: Once I open an email, I don’t leave it in my inbox. I found that when I did leave emails in my inbox, I’d re-read them repeatedly each time I opened my email, and each time I’d waste more time trying to decide how to handle it. So I either delete it or move it to another folder I’ve set up — waiting, read, someday, travel, client-specific. Every time I go through my email, my goal is to empty my inbox.

5. Read and follow up: In whatever time I have left before my timer goes off, I go through my non-inbox folders, reading through newsletters, clicking on links, and following up on emails in my “waiting” file.

End: When my countdown timer sounds, I close out my email program. Once I’m done, I don’t return to my email — on any device — until my next scheduled session.

Peter gives us many more tips in his article. Read it now.

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."