Marketing & Business
piece written on the 18th January 2014 by  

I don’t know too many people who enjoy lots of email, in fact, I think anyone who runs a company and receives a decent number of emails a day will say that they wished they could stop it or find a better way to manage it. The irony is that most people would say that they’d rather have that than have to continually be on the phone. Nevertheless, I read a somewhat interesting article in the newspaper on the weekend that was re-published from the Daily Mail UK. The article involved psychologists analysing email accounts to determine what type of emails cause the most stress.


Following their study they stated that not only is bad email etiquette a workplace irritation, but that it can damage our mental health. Unfortunately, the study doesn’t go into too much detail about their findings and they don’t show too much supporting evidence, but one interesting thing I found was that the highest stress causing type of email is that of “ping pong” email – you know, when someone emails you, you reply quickly and within minutes you already have a response. The article says, “Getting back to someone within seconds or replying to an email out of office hours made recipients feel that they were not as dedicated to their job as the sender still firing off work emails late at night.” Another statement relating to what I just mentioned was, “And when two people rapidly respond to each other’s messages it creates a ‘ping pong’ effect, where they both feel pressured to reply and end up not giving emails enough consideration.”

What’s been said above is not profound, but it certainly sparks some interesting conversation around email best practices. So many of us battle with email on a daily basis. On an average day I arrive at work to about 30 or 40 important emails. One thing I have done well is set up filters to get rid of spammy messages. Dealing with these emails after almost always achieving zero inbox the afternoon before isn’t ideal and I don’t find it motivating. Furthermore, a lot of the time I find that it creates a great deal of pressure early in the morning which doesn’t always set the day up on a positive note. The problem isn’t simply a number of emails in the morning, the problem is actually receiving further emails whilst trying to reply to all the emails – that’s where things go horribly wrong in my opinion. This very situation got me thinking, I have realised that I need to start optimising my email usage and find ways to reduce the pressure and in turn allow me to reply with thought and creativity, which are immensely important in the industry I operate in.

I’ve come up with some ideas and I started following them from the very first day I arrived at the office this year.


1. Check Frequency

I contacted several of my friends who I know deal with a lot of email and asked them a simple question. “Do you check email throughout the day or only several times a day”. I wasn’t surprised to hear that every single person checks their mail throughout the day. This is the same way I’ve dealt with email and I believe that it’s a flawed method. Checking email throughout the day is like receiving calls throughout the day, they’re distracting and they oftentimes pull your attention away from the task at hand only to return you to the task with a different frame of mind. This is not productive, not in the least. Sure, you might reply to emails quicker, but consideration times are diminished and the focus becomes all about clearing the inbox. For the next few weeks I’ll be checking email at 09h30, 14h00 and 16h00. My reasoning behind this is that the frequency ensures that people always get a response in what I feel is an appropriate timeframe – someone who emails the evening before gets a response in the morning and someone who emails during the day gets a response on the day. I think that’s perfectly fine and is certainly the timeframe that I hope to receive a response in.

Tip: Chrome’s Inbox Pause extension allows you to click a Pause button in GMail, and your email is paused. This is what I am using.

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2. Attack Plan

A great side effect of the Check Frequency is that when you “unpause” your email, your inbox will download all the new emails and you’ll have a chance to look at them holistically. Don’t see it as overwhelming to receive another 40 emails, look at it as a chance to create a response plan. Checking constantly doesn’t allow for any plan of action and your actions are being solely dictated by ongoing emails. So, what I’ve been doing as a trial is unpausing my inbox, allowing the flow of emails to arrive and I’m then grouping the emails using a Gmail plugin that allows for multiple colour stars. For example, I’m using a red star for “quick action”, a blue star for “requires a period of time to perform a task” and a green star for “cannot attend to now”. These groups will no doubt expand and change over the weeks, but they’re assisting me with being able to prioritise and process the inbox far quicker and with far more consideration.

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3. Sound Mind

This one’s far more personal than the processes above, but I know I’m not the only one who will enjoy/appreciate this. If you’ve paused GMail using Chrome, your phone won’t receive emails either. This means that whilst the inbox is paused and you’re on your way to a meeting, taking lunch or trying to unwind in the evening you won’t receive any emails. What I like is that you cannot unpause it via your mobile phone (easily at least) and I’ve found that this has substantially reduced the amount of time I spend looking at emails on my mobile phone – bliss. I’m sure you can relate, you’re out one evening, you’re on your phone, it beeps and there’s an email – everything inside urges you to reply and so you do. Sure, for quick responses it’s alright, but sometimes replying via a mobile device whilst you’re not really in “work mode” is a way to send a reply that isn’t to the level of what it would be if you were in the office. I’m not going to labour this point, it’s a debate in itself, but for me personally, the less time I spend on my mobile device tackling email the better. Use it, don’t use it.

4. Semi-Template Responses

I’d like to state right now that I’m not a fan of template responses, in fact, they’re awful and usually hit my trash immediately. However, there are ways to speed up email with canned responses (which is a Google Labs addition). Canned responses are predetermined responses to common questions. Sure, you can use them for completely template driven responses but let me give you an example of what I find them useful for: Almost every day of my life I receive a handful of emails asking for a quote on digital marketing. Now, the problem is, that’s similar to asking someone how much a cricket bat is.. it all depends what you want. Now there’s nothing worse that sending a quick response that could easily be read as rude, rushed or useless. So what I did was I typed up an email as if it were a really important one, I covered the types of digital marketing, I explained how it differs from company to company and requirement to requirement and then saved it as a template. Inside the template I put some flags/placeholders which I change every single time I get a quote request so that the emails are still personal, but the core explanation is there and it’s generic so I template it. I can think of at least 5-10 scenarios where this could be useful (quote request, banking details, company profile, contact details, client recommendations, etc) . I’ve only implemented a couple and the minute I have time I’ll definitely to writing several more. Interestingly, I’ve seen a positive response since I started doing this so I’m speaking from personal experience here rather than this just being an idea. Just remember to make sure that it’s not just a template, nobody wants to talk to a robot!

canned responses

5. Snooze

This isn’t something new but I thought about it whilst typing up this blog post. Last year March I actually blogged about snoozing your inbox, the ability to “hide” an email until a later date. In other words, if you receive an email that you can only deal with in several hours you’re able to hide the email for a number of hours and it will automatically appear then. This is hugely useful if you’re someone who likes to see zero inbox. We all receive those emails that cannot be actioned immediately, simply snooze it for 24 hours and it will completely vanish from your inbox for 24 hours until you’re ready. I use this religiously and it’s possibly one of the best practices I’ve learnt over the years. I set mine up for snooze intervals of: 1 day, 2 days, 3 days, etc. I also have some hourly intervals too (2 hours, 4 hours and 8 hours).

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Email cannot rule our lives, we just weren’t programmed to operate like that. But, email cannot be ignored so we have to optimise the process in order to create a balance that inspires motivation, positivity and creativity.

Do you have any email inbox management tips? Please share them in the comments below!