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4 Zen email habits to make you more productive

February 27, 2015 15:16 IST

Like all other practices, good email practices take time. Take it one day at a time and it will become an effective communication tool for you.

A few days ago, I was reading a study which stated that reading email alone sucks up 28 per cent of the average workday; employees send and receive an average of 112 emails daily! That's a LOT of time. No wonder, on many days, we all feel that we have not done anything except responding to emails.

Email is not bad -- in fact, it's a great tool. But whether it is a boon or bane really depends on how we use it. Here are some good email habits which have worked really well for me.

1. Schedule email times

Yes, you read it right. Your Inbox need not be the "always open" tab in your browser or your Outlook need not be the default running application on your machine. The world is not going to fall if you check your email a couple of hours late.

Let emails get piled up in your inbox. You don't need an 'instant notification' about any new email. Set aside a fixed schedule for email checking and more importantly, stick to it.

Check emails only during that time and you will get lot of things done during the 'no-email' time. Try it, it works wonders!

2. Mind subject lines

Being a marketer, email subject is a topic of research for me -- what works, what does not work, what will get me more open rate and all such things. I wish people give equal importance to subject lines while writing any email.

State the intention right in the subject line itself -- include tags like INFORM/ URGENT/ ACTION REQUIRED in the subject line and you will help people in managing their email flow better.

Another important aspect is sticking to one subject for one topic. If the topic changes during the email conversations, change the subject line.

Subject line saying "Webinar Invite" does not make sense for your "Marketing Ideas for Next Quarter" email.

3. Manage inbox items

Experts talk about the 2-minute golden rule: If an email can be responded to in a minute or two, do it immediately. It has worked wonderfully for me.

It gives the pleasure of getting one more thing done in the list and at the same time, the inbox keeps getting cleaner.

And the recipients would love the quick acknowledgements and responses too!

For the items which cannot be tackled through the 2-minute golden rule, I have another rule: ACT-FILE-DELETE.

Make sure that every email which you receive goes in one of these categories. ACT (Delegate the activity, do it yourself, put it in calendar or set a reminder); FILE (file the email to another folder to act or read later, or to a folder for future reference); or DELETE (remove emails from the inbox, unsubscribe from unnecessary emails and newsletters).

De-cluttering the inbox is very important. Remember, your aim is to empty the inbox.

4. Be mindful

Be mindful while working on your emails and you will be able to finish a lot in your scheduled email slot (see point #1). Being mindful also enables you to write short and precise emails.

Short emails are easy to comprehend and act on, and those also show clear thinking.

Follow a 5-sentence rule here: Try and limit your emails to less than 5 sentences and you will be surprised how effective you can be!

Ready to send an email? Think twice. If you can get the work done by simply walking across to your colleague, do that instead.

No matter how many new things come up, email is here to stay -- at least for some foreseeable future. So why not learn to tackle it well? Like all other practices, good email practices take time. Take it one day at a time and it will become an effective communication tool for you.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

The author is AVP Sales -- America, Sapience Analytics

Khiv Singh