Here’s something I ask all of my CEO clients to do:
- Pick your busiest day of the week. (For most that’s Monday.)
- Write down everything you do that day—by the minute—on a single sheet of paper. (If you spent three minutes eating a muffin and 17 minutes watching a pigeon outside, write it down.)
- Fax me a copy of that minute-by-minute breakdown and let’s chat.
I’ve worked with hundreds of CEOs from all across the globe, and you know what they all have in common when they complete this exercise? On their busiest days at the office, they are spending as much as 50 percent of their day on email!
I was shocked when I first noticed this pattern. We are talking about highly skilled, well-trained leaders spending the majority of their time emailing (a low-level skill) on the days when their unique abilities are needed the most.
Talk about inefficient.
While it’s a surprising trend, I didn’t truly believe it was an epidemic until I read a recent survey published by Reuters that said the average worker spends as much as 6.3 hours PER DAY on email.
This is a serious problem.
Too many people are working longer and longer hours, chalking it up to “What it takes to be successful,” not realizing that they are spending as much as 6.3 hours PER DAY on a task that shouldn’t take more than an hour.
That’s at least 25 hours a week that you could have back in your life (to spend with family, pursue a hobby, whatever) if only you could get ahold of your email habits.
The good news is, you can.
Here are seven simple time-saving hacks you can use right now to cut your email time in half by this time tomorrow:
Time-Saving Hack #1: No more long email chains.
When your email chain reaches more than five back and forth responses, it’s time to pick up the phone.
Sure, it might be easier to type a quick response, but what you forget to account for is the time being wasted waiting for the other party to reply. Waiting for a response triggers a process in our brains called an open loop. We want to know the answer to our inquiry so that we can close the loop.
But since the reply is taking so long, we end up looking elsewhere. Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. Wherever. Our brains crave the conclusion; the Internet pretends to provide it.
Twenty minutes later and we’re still waiting, nothing having been accomplished.
Instead, pick up the phone, have a quick chat, close the loop and move on.
Time-Saving Hack #2: Email during slow hours.
Here’s the trick: Don’t email when you know people are going to be emailing you right back. Instead, send your email during a time that you know you won’t be tempted to wait for a reply.
If you need an immediate response, see the above Time-Saving Hack.
Time-Saving Hack #3: Actually email when you are “emailing.”
It isn’t that email is inefficient; it’s our inefficient and wasteful use of it. When you are in your email, be emailing.
Don’t watch YouTube videos in a separate browser as you write an email response. Don’t chat on Skype while you are sending a file. Email.
Get in, do what you need to do, get out and move on.
Time-Saving Hack #4: Use canned responses.
If you send the same email more than once inside a single week, then you should be using pre-written canned responses.
Not sure canned responses will work in your situation? Try it for 30 days. You’ll be surprised at the results.
Time-Saving Hack #5: The 2-minute rule.
Time yourself for three days writing emails. You’ll be surprised by two things:
- Two minutes is actually a long time.
- You write way too many emails longer than two minutes.
What do you do if your email takes longer than two minutes? You guessed it. Pick up that phone.
Time-Saving Hack #6: Use auto-response emails to tell people you are busy.
For most, the biggest distraction with email isn’t what you are sending, but who keeps filling up your inbox with requests.
The fastest way to curtail these time-takers is to set up an auto-response email that says something like this:
Thank you for your email.
Right now I’m a little busy and probably won’t be able to respond to your email right away.
If it’s urgent, please call my cellphone. Otherwise, give me a call at 555-5555 between the hours of 2 and 3 p.m.
I’ll get to your email as soon as possible.
You’ll find that most people who get an email like this from you will quickly learn to respect your time, and offering them contact alternatives means that they still get what they want and you get more time freedom because of it.
Time-Saving Hack #7: Get a virtual assistant.
Too many people suffer from “inbox anxiety,” which forces them to check, recheck and then check again to see what condition their inbox is in.
The solution is to hire someone else to worry about it so you can compartmentalize and reduce the time you spend unnecessarily checking.
Email parsing is one of the most popular job postings on sites like Upwork, and there’s good reason for it. Hiring someone for just a few dollars per hour to sort through, organize and even schedule emails for you gives you the peace of mind you need to be productive.
Pro tip: Train your assistant to recognize and respond to low-level, nonpriority emails, freeing up even more of your time.
These strategies are simple, but they work. At first you might struggle to stay consistent, but don’t give up.
Build the habits. Save the time. Give yourself an extra 25 hours a week.