Six-point-three. That’s how many hours, according to a recent study commissioned by tech giant Adobe, that Americans spend, on average, responding to emails every single day. Put another way: You spend an entire third of your waking life glued to your inbox, responding to message threads that, frankly, could be hashed out over a five-minute IRL chat. Something’s gotta give.
Thankfully, getting that something to give is, in many cases, as easy as hitting a button. By implementing a series of tried-and-true tactics, you can slash your hours spent on email down to nothing. Just think: how much time would you save if you never had to manually download an attachment again? Or what if you could pull a hastily-sent email back from the ether, saving you the time (and panic!) spent drafting an “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to send that” email?
Yes, all of this Internet jujitsu is possible. We’ve cobbled together the 17 best time-saving, life-bettering, efficiency-boosting email hacks below. So read on, because that fated inbox zero awaits. And for more ways to make the most of your 6.3 hours, don’t miss 15 Cold Open Business Emails That Set You Apart.
It’s a good bet your inbox is as cluttered as a senior dorm during finals. It’s a good bet, too, that most of that clutter is due to daily or weekly emails from retailers, organizations, and other newsletters you may have signed up for over the years. By using Unroll.me, you can track down all of the lists you may be on—and unsubscribe from any you no longer want to receive info from. In fact, one Best Life editor was able to use Unroll.me to pinpoint a whopping 135 subscriptions. How many will you turn up? And how many could you do without?
Turn on keyboard shortcuts.
We all know the basic keyboard shortcuts. (Command-A: select all. Command-C: copy. Command-P: paste. Etc.) But Gmail users have the ability to turn on an advanced set of shortcuts. First, go to settings. Click on the general tab. About midway through, you’ll see a keyboard shortcuts option, turned off by default. Turn it on, and you’ll gain access to these easy keystrokes:
- C: start a new message
- Shift-C: start a new message in a new window
- D: start a new message in a new tab
- F: forward a message
- #: delete a message
- Shift-I: mark a message as read
- Shift-U: mark a message as unread
- Command-S: save a message
And then automate them.
If you’re having trouble memorizing this compendium of keyboard shortcuts, Keyrocket, a Google Chrome plug-in, will remind you as you type. (Non-invasively, of course.) And for more ways to become a productivity machine, learn the 15 Ways to Double Your Productivity in Half the Time.
Yes, really, the signature organizational tool of social media works for email, too. Throw in a hashtag or two at the end of your signature—the part of the email that is generally clipped off in, so recipients won’t see nor judge your “#workhardplayhard” tag—for easy searching. Just type the hashtag into the search field at the top of your inbox and you’ll turn up every email coded with it.
Enable the “unsend” option.
We’ve all been there: you draft an email, send it into the ether, and immediately realize, oh no, that message wasn’t ready to send. Turns out you can bring your messages back from the brink by installing a helpful delay. On Gmail, for instance, go under settings, then general. You’ll find the undo button as the fifth option. Turn it on. You can select from a drop-down menu of 10-second intervals; they’ll dictate how much time you have before your message is sent off for good.
Set that feature to 10 seconds.
A tip: if you use email as a de facto instant messaging service, we recommend setting the undo button to 10 seconds. That way, your responses won’t be sent on a half-minute delay. No, 30 seconds doesn’t sound like much, but let’s put it this way: If your IM service of choice (Slack, GChat, Facebook Messenger—whatever!) held every outgoing message for that long, your contacts would quickly grow peeved.
Or just fill out the “to” field last.
It’s a good habit to adopt, folks. (See previous two slides.)
Use this sign off.
“For an email that begins with a salutation of ‘hi’ or ‘hello,’ a closing such as ‘best’ would be consistent,” says Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, founder and president of The Etiquette School of New York. “‘Best,’ though overused, is one of the safest closings in general, because it is inoffensive and universally appropriate.” That’s right: Despite its rampant overuse, “Best” is The Single Best Way to Sign Your Emails.
And this email signature.
When you’re on the road, at least, you’ll want to forgo annoying, cutesy phrases (“Please forgive any typos.” “Sent from my 1.21 gigawatt processor.” “Sent from my iPhone—please consider the environment before printing.”) in lieu of something simple, elegant, straight-to-the-point: “Sent from the road.” According to Ben Dattner, an executive coach, it checks all of those boxes while also evoking a Kerouac-esque vibe. Small wonder it’s The One Email Smartphone Signature Everyone Should Have.
And this out-of-office message.
According to Jane Scudder, a professor at Loyala University Chicago’s business school, when you’re filling out an out-of-office message, this is the format you should hew to:
Thanks for your email. I’m OOO from Tuesday, June 12th through Friday, June 15th without access to email. If this is urgent, please contact [THE PERSON WHO’S BELOW YOU ON THE CHAIN OF COMMAND—or, if you have one, YOUR COFFEE-FETCHING ASSISTANT’S NAME] at [THEIR EMAIL ADDRESS]. Otherwise, I will respond to all messages when I return.
For nitpick-level details, like whether to end the message on your last day out or your first day back—or whether to include a phone number of not—just consult our frankly too comprehensive guide on the matter.
Change the display density.
Gmail users can choose from three different display densities for their inbox: comfortable, cozy, and compact. The display density affects nothing more than how much white space exists between each message in your inbox display. It’s little more than a matter of preference, but think of it terms of, well, a term paper. Comfortable is like double-lined spacing, where cozy is single-lined spacing, and compact is akin to half-lined spacing.
Don’t forget to archive.
You can eliminate emails from your inbox without having to totally purge them from existence via the trash folder. By “archiving” individual messages, they’ll immediately become hidden from your inbox and all of your folders. But you can still track them down, if necessary, via the search function. On Gmail, you can instantly archive messages after opening them by clicking the small “x” that appears next to the subject line.
Follow the two-minute rule.
Championed by productivity experts of all stripes, the two-minute rule is a surefire way to tackle email-related stress. Here’s how it works: If you can respond to and forget about an email in two minutes or less, tackle it right away. If not, cast it aside for later.
Batch your email responses.
To cut back on the amount of time you spend glued to the screen caught up in mind-numbing back-and-forth exchanges, designate times of your day as “email responding” periods. (Maybe it’s an hour in the morning, and 90 minutes in the afternoon. Maybe it’s three hours after lunch. Whatever works for you!) Then, only respond to emails during these timeframes—and never outside of them.
Cap your emails at 140 characters.
Yes, just like a Tweet (or at least a pre-280 revolution Tweet). As Andrew Torba, the CEO of Gab, the social network, advised in a Medium post, it’s best to keep your emails as short as possible. “I’d like to help you solve problem X. I do Y and Z suggested we connect. Are you free to chat?” There’s no need for flowery salutations whatsoever.
Set attachments to auto-download.
If This, Then That (IFTTT), an email-optimizing app, can help you in set specific “language,” so to speak, that will cut out a bunch of middleman-type slog. For example: if an incoming email has an attachment, IFTTT will automatically download it to your Google Drive.
Don’t respond to emails after hours.
It’s no secret that Americans are overworked—and, as that Adobe study revealed, much of that overwork comes from frequent emailing. That’s why, earlier this year, New York City council members introduced a bill that would make it illegal for companies to require employees to check emails after-hours. (It’s inspired by a currently on-the-books law in France, where companies with staffs larger than 50 have to set strict guidelines on after-hours work, or else they face financial penalties.)
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