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You are wasting time on email. Here’s how to streamline the chore

Some people strive for zero unread messages in their inbox while others let emails pile up until they seem unmanageable. Either way, there are strategies to help everyone save time and sanity when it comes to email

This March 20, 2018, file photo shows the Gmail app on an iPad in Baltimore. Consumers report spending five hours a day checking email, according to a 2019 study by Adobe. That’s five hours each day we could be using for exercise, family time, work projects and sleep.
This March 20, 2018, file photo shows the Gmail app on an iPad in Baltimore. Consumers report spending five hours a day checking email, according to a 2019 study by Adobe. That’s five hours each day we could be using for exercise, family time, work projects and sleep.
Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

Consumers report spending five hours a day checking email, according to a 2019 study by Adobe. That’s five hours each day we could be using for exercise, family time, work projects and sleep. Those trying to be productive must also take into account the distraction factor that can come with checking and responding to all those messages. Here are a few ways to slim down the amount of time spent on this seemingly unavoidable task.

Check less often

Management consulting company Zarvana found that professionals check their email every 37 minutes on average, according to the Harvard Business Review. But most people aren’t expecting a reply to an email within 37 minutes. So it would make sense that we don’t need to check it that often.

A survey by customer service consultant Jeff Toister found that 88% of people said receiving an email response in one hour would meet their expectations. Zarvana suggests checking emails once an hour and subsequently cutting six email checks from your daily routine. No reason to over-check your email. Try to decide on a specific amount of time each hour you will set aside for email correspondence.

Turn off notifications

If you are determined to check your inbox only once an hour (set an alarm if needed — and most people are fine receiving a reply in an hour — then there is no need to get instant notifications when a new email comes in. EmailAnalytics found the average person receives more than 77 emails each day Monday through Friday. Even if you take two seconds to glance up and read every email notification that pops up, that’s a waste of more than five minutes each day. Ditch the notifications and use that five minutes to stretch, drink some water or call your mom.

Unsubscribe

A big chunk of the messages you receive each day likely include marketing emails. While you may have your favorite companies and stores and look forward to the discount codes they send, I would guess there are just as many that haven’t persuaded you to click in months. Unsubscribe from future emails or change your preferences to receive fewer messages from those companies. Deleting daily emails from companies you rarely frequent is yet another waste of time.

Label spam and block senders

EmailAnalytics found the average person receives about two spam emails each day. While most services are pretty good about automatically throwing those into the spam folder, some can still sneak through. Don’t simply delete them. Make sure you mark them as spam to help the AI recognize it next time. And if those messages continue to sneak through the filter, Gmail gives you the option to completely block the sender. Click the three vertical dots at the top right of any message and click ‘Block (sender)’. Any future message from that sender will automatically go straight to the spam folder.

Write brief emails

No need to type a long-winded email when the entire message is simply to confirm a meeting time or answer a quick question. Email service SaneBox recommends adding the acronym EOM (end of message) to a subject line if the entire message can fit there. This encourages you to keep your message brief and alerts the recipient that there is no need to even click on the email. The whole message is already visible in the subject line. An example would be, “Lunch meeting changed to small conference room (EOM).”

If you are content spending five hours a day checking email, ignore everything you’ve just read. But, if you are looking for ways to reclaim some of that time to use in other ways, these simple methods can help make sure your inbox doesn’t take over your life.