Email Productivity Boosting Tips

Simplify & Focus – How to Manage Information

I just read an article from earlier this year in Fortune magazine, “3 tips to boost email productivity“, which had some very simple and very useful tips on increasing email productivity. The tips were good at the corporate level because it could help teams and individuals cut down on the email clutter, but they didn’t necessarily help the individual. Therefore I thought I would pull together some strands in this installment of our Productivity Series.

3 Tips to Boost Corporate and Team Email Productivity

The three main tips in the article, which can help teams and whole organisations boost their productivity and for which there were some great examples, were as follows:

  • move collaborative work to other places
  • change the way internal corporate information is shared
  • declare email free times

In other words…

boost your email productivity by using it less – in terms of time, but also in terms of moving some discussions and one-way communications to other channels.

I have commented in a bit further detail on all three areas below.


Collaboration without email

We all know the feeling. We’re cc:ed on countless email conversations with several others – and it might not even be relevant to us. I recently had to tell off an investor in a start up for wasting everybody’s time and costing the company money by asking a third party a chargeable question, which had no value to anybody other than himself. He ended up throwing a strop and, once again, wasted everybody’s time by throwing his metaphorical toys out of the pram in yet another email cc:ed to everybody. Thankfully, we’ve all become so inundated with email that we hardly read them any longer. I know a lot of people who are starting to think “if it’s urgent enough they can give me a call!” or they will keep on pestering me.

This is a real problem. If key messages are not read by the necessary recipients – and it’s an urgent problem – then it WILL have a massive impact on productivity and the company’s bottom-line. The inverse is also true… We’re spending so much of our time reading and responding to pointless emails, but still don’t have quick access to the information we really need – when and where we need it.

Switched on organisations have therefore started using collaborative chat and project management tools to share the key project messages. There are many different options, including Workboard and HIpChat mentioned in the article. I have personally used Basecamp and Campfire (both from 37Signals) and Zoho Projects, which Honeydew is currently using. It might be worth looking into whether this can cut down your email clutter…


Changing the corporate information flow

This is where the question of relevance becomes even more vital. Interspersed with emails from clients, sub-contractors, team members, management or peers, there are also all kinds of corporate communication with varying degrees of importance. However, we don’t know if they are relevant or important until we have read them and there are now tools to help companies overcome this by ensuring corporate communications are delivered through other channels. The beauty is that it can be deleted after a set amount of time so somebody returning from holiday won’t know not to report to the staff nurse due to bad tuna being served in the cafeteria last Tuesday… and they don’t need to waste any time reading about it. Cutting down on the clutter of non-essential information is clearly a great way of improving email productivity!


Email free times!

As avid readers of our Productivity Series will know, this is something of which I am a firm advocate. I personally only check emails twice a day – and have communicated to my colleagues that if they want to reach me with anything urgent they need to call me. What my downfall might be is that I don’t necessarily let other people avoid getting communication from me.

Sometimes, when I am working on large projects or we are facing a very busy time – as a lean organisation this can be quite often :-), I will be working very late and sending off lots of emails to clients, partners, contractors etc. and this might not help other people with their productivity… With the advent and inexorable rise of the smartphone email is no longer asynchronous.

The beauty of asynchronous communication was always that I could send off an email and I didn’t necessarily expect a response right away – particularly not if I sent it late in the evening or over the weekend. The problem now is that with smartphones people will often get the messages right away – and will also often feel compelled to if not respond to them, then at least read them. This can either remove their focus from what they are/should be working on or cut into their spare time. This was never the point of email…

By both setting fixed times for checking/responding to emails and, perhaps especially, when no email communication should be dealt with it will lead to a couple of things happening: people might re-think the email and decide not to send it – or ensure that the communication is more thought through and therefore more likely to be relevant to the recipient. If you have a policy like this it is key that you educate all of your partners, suppliers and clients about it – and still make sure that you are available for emergencies whether by phone or text.


Personal Email Productivity?

Some years ago, I first watched a speech given by Merlin Mann about his “Inbox Zero” concept given at GoogleTech in 2007. This in turn reminded me of an email article written by Janelle Barlow many years ago, but which is probably more relevant than ever, “Coping with Information Overload

There is no doubt that if you want to be able to not just manage your time, but thrive in today’s fast paced business environment – and still have a work/life balance – knowing how to deal with the deluge of information is paramount. You have to be able to simplify in order to keep your focus and perform at the highest level. Starting by clearing out your inbox is probably the one task that will give you the most mental space and energy to tackle the rest of the tasks at hand. It can seem a daunting task, but if you spend a little bit of your time reading the article and/or watching the video you will be able to make progress right away.

Janelle’s article looks at the very important distinction between knowledge and information and how we can deal with the ever increasing amount of information. The article has a wealth of useful tips and ideas for coping with information overload, asks pertinent questions and provides some practical self-evaluation tools. Definitely one of the best reads for anybody trying to boost email productivity.

You can see Merlin’s speech on email productivity below or read Janelle’s article here.

Hopefully these great tips will help you to boost yet another aspect of your productivity until our next installment.

If you are new to our blog posts about productivity, you can catch up by reading the very first article here. You will also find links to our previous posts in the series.