If You Want To Spend Less Time In Email, Do This
Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a HUGE difference.
In my work with clients, email is always a big source of stress. You get too many of them, they ping you all day long, and worse, even if you’ve turned off notifications, your brain still tries to check constantly on its own, forever seeking those tiny hits of dopamine.
But what if I told you there was a simple tweak to how you process your email that could make a world of difference? And what if that tweak goes against everything you’ve ever heard about “being organized”?
This simple tweak isn’t even something you have to do. It’s something NOT to do.
So, what is it?
Stop filing your email.
Yup, that’s it.
It saves time, it reduces decision fatigue and it won’t making finding your emails later any more difficult.
Now, if you’re already on team “search”, feel free to read on and feel (just a little bit) smug about all the time and effort you’re saving by not filing your email.
And, if you’re thinking “What?? How can you be suggesting this? Just stop filing my email? How will I find it when I need it?”, then read on so I can share a few things that might alleviate your fears.
First, studies show that people who file their email spend more time in email than folks who search email. So, your valiant attempts at a perfect organizational structure might just be in vain.
Studies also show that the average person gets 121 of emails a day!
So let’s do a thought experiment. If you get 121 emails per day, and it takes you, on average, 10 seconds to make a decision about where to file an email, that’s costing you an extra 20 minutes a day.
And maybe that doesn’t seem like much. But those 20 minutes are precious. You’re not getting them back. Over a course of a week, that’s almost 2 hours, just filing email!
What would you do with an extra 2 hours a week?!
Why does it take so long to file email?
Well, when each email has to be put in one folder and one folder only, our brains start to twitch. Should the email with flight confirmation for my upcoming business trip go into a travel folder? Or should it go into the client’s folder? Which is better? Who knows! But you just spent a fair mount of time and effort making that one single decision. Over and over again.
But won’t it take me longer to find my emails if they’re not filed?
Nope! Remember, searchers spend less time in email than navigators. Search has gotten MUCH better over the years.
What about labels?
Well, labels (like in Gmail), are definitely better than folders because then you can multi-home an email with labels, whereas with folders, you have to make a choice. With labels, you don’t have to make a decision about either/or, because it can be both.
That said, you don’t need to be a labeling completist. You can use labels, or files, judiciously, only when necessary.
For instance, I don’t label or file most of my email, but I do have a few labels I use regularly:
- Waiting — for things I’ve ordered but haven’t yet arrived
- Taxes — so it’s easy for me to find any tax related emails or docs come tax time
- Travel — flight confirmations, etc.
Is filing always bad?
Of course not. There’s always gray area.
Who might benefit from some low-effort (top level only) filing?
- Attorneys might want to file by client
- General contractors might want to file by job
But even then, big buckets by client or job will suffice and will make this job far less time consuming. (The more subfolders, the longer filing will take and the deeper you’ll get into decision fatigue.)
If you don’t file, should you just leave those emails in your inbox?
Nope! If you’re using Gmail, then archive. If you’re using Outlook, create a folder for “old email”.
Your inbox should contain, at any given moment, only be things you haven’t seen yet.
Remember the One Touch Rule to help you get there.
Not quite ready to stop filing altogether?
Let’s start with some baby steps
First, reduce the number of choices. If you have folders with subfolders, let’s collapse those and stick to just one level.
If you have only one level, but you have many folders, try reducing the number of folders.
Can you get it to 5 or fewer?
Studies show that the fewer the folders, the less time you’ll take deciding. And the more decision making power (and time) you’ll have left over for the important stuff.
Are you a searcher or a navigator?
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Originally published at https://www.alexishaselberger.com on November 14, 2022.