3.5 simple email hacks that will save you days of time

by | May 16, 2013 | Technology

Takeaway: It’s worth getting better at email if you deal with it a lot. Keep your emails to 5 sentences or less, shutting off pointless alerts to help you concentrate, or declaring an email holiday if you’re feeling particularly adventurous.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 32s.

Email is like rain – you can’t control it, you can only deal with the effects of it. – Merlin Mann

Email is a necessary evil of life, and it’s pretty damn hard to control it sometimes. When the average knowledge worker spends a whopping 28% of their time in email, it should go without saying that email is something worth getting better at.

3.5 of my favorite email hacks are below. I use three of them myself and they work wonderfully – the last one would be kind of douchey for me to use right now, but it might just work depending on your situation!

1. Shorten all your emails to 5 sentences or less

I’ve been using this hack for a week, and have blown through my inbox like never before. To my surprise, most folks didn’t mind receiving emails from me after I started using this hack, especially since it’s taking me much less time to respond now. Naturally, your mileage may vary, depending on where you work. Everyone likes a person who gets to the point quickly, and this hack forces you to do just that.

2. Shut off pointless alerts

New email alerts don’t cost you much time, but they cost you a ton of attention. Every time a new alert comes in, you look at it (just in case it happens to be important), and then you have to re-orient yourself to what you were trying to focus on before. In my opinion, they’re worth shutting off completely. Also, they don’t convey nearly enough information about the message you received to be overly useful.


While you’re in there tinkering with your email settings, I think it’s also useful to reduce the frequency of how often your mail client checks for new messages, particularly if you don’t want to turn off new message alerts. (Plus, having your phone check for new email less often will save you battery life.)

Screen Shot 2013-05-15 at 10.16.40 AM

3. Declare an email holiday

I worked a couple of co-op terms at a company that designated one day of every month as an “email holiday”. (To be fair they didn’t enforce it strictly, but I think they should have.)

An old coworker of mine also used this trick if she needed to get something big done. She would set up an auto-responder (with her phone number in it in case of emergencies), and then tackled whatever she needed to get done for a whole day or two.

The world won’t stop when you step away from your email client for a day. In fact, a break for a day or two from email gives your mind a much-needed rest, allows you to focus on bigger and better things, and will provide you with much more energy when you reconnect.

3.5 Keep it off the record

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This isn’t really a hack per-se, and I’m just including it here out of interest because it won’t be useful to a ton of people. When I emailed a well-known writer a few weeks ago, his signature contained the note that “This note is off the record (blogs and tweets, too) unless we agree otherwise.”

There’s no way that this is legally biding (though I’m not lawyer), but the line implies a trust and relationship between the sender and receiver that I found really interesting!

Email is something that’s worth getting better at it, especially if you spend all day in it. I can’t think of a much higher leverage activity than figuring out a few small changes that will provide you with much, much more time later on.

Image in “pointless alerts” section source. Blue airplane picture by Helga Weber.

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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