Secrets of Effective Email Time Management

As a person who earns a living thanks to the internet, I’ll be the first to admit that email is a necessity. I’ll also be the first to admit that email can be a massive time waster, especially now that smart phones give us the ability to receive and send messages anytime, anywhere. Not too long ago, managing my personal and business email accounts would suck up large chunks of my personal time—until I started practicing email time management.

Save Time and Get More Accomplished with Email Time Management

It’s almost hard for me to imagine now, but I used to check my email frequently. If I was working at my desk, I’d leave my inbox open so I could respond to messages as soon as I received them. I spent more time dealing with email than dealing with my task at hand, and you know what that means—I never finished projects according to schedule and I found myself working longer and longer.

4 Easy Email Time Management Tips

These days, I follow a few email time management rules that I set for myself. I now spend less time dealing with email and more time working on my online businesses and enjoying my life.

1. Schedule uninterrupted time to deal with email. This one was tough for me to implement at first, but scheduling uninterrupted time to deal with email and only email is an incredible time saver. Why? If you’re going to read and respond to messages, give it your full concentration—don’t do it while you’re also answering phone calls, updating your blog or paying bills. You’ll save a lot of time because you’re able to concentrate on what you’re doing.

2. Reduce the amount of time you spend dealing with email. Speaking of saving time with your email … set limits for how often you check your email. My goal is once per day, but that may not be often enough for some people. It depends on the nature of your job. Checking email once in the morning and once in the afternoon might be a good arrangement for some people. Give yourself a few days of trial and error to figure out what email time management system works for you—and stick to it!

3. Use the 4 D’s of email time management.

  • Delete it. If an email is useless information or something that you could read elsewhere, get rid of it now before it clutters up your inbox any longer.
  • Do it. If someone asks you a simple question that you can deal with right away, do it now and move on.
  • Delegate it. If it’s impractical for you to delete the email but it’s not something that you can deal with immediately, see if you can delegate the work to someone else.
  • Defer it. If an email can’t be deleted or dealt with immediately but you’re the only person who can do what needs to be done … defer it by scheduling the task into your calendar.

4. Unsubscribe to any email lists that lack real value. It’s tempting to sign up for different email lists, but ask yourself if you really need to receive all of those newsletters and online coupon codes and jokes-of-the-day. If you delete the messages more often than you deal with them, unsubscribe from the list to save yourself time.

I’m a big fan of time management because far too many people claim that they’re “too busy” to do things. If something is important to you, though, you can fit it into your schedule. Email time management is one easy and effective way to “add hours to your day.” Give it a shot—I think you’ll like the results.

Take Action. Get Results.

26 thoughts on “Secrets of Effective Email Time Management”

  1. Good morning Steve:

    This was a needed post for me, as I feel at times I spend too much time on emails. You are right, about one time of the day to handle all emails. 4 D’s are also great and help full. I will start using these from now.

    Enjoy the week end
    fran A

    • Fran,

      excessive e-mail certainly can get the better of us. Staying ahead of this makes for far greater time management and therefore be able to get more things done and have more success. A little fine tuning on things like e-mail practices will greatly help your productivity. Good luck.

  2. Hi Steve,

    This is a great article. Email is indeed a huge time sucking vampire. If we do not manage our emails well, we can waste precious time checking and replying to our emails instead of being truly productive. Your 4 email time management tips are definitely helpful. Here are some of the thoughts I had as I read through them.

    1. Schedule uninterrupted time to deal with email.

    It has been my experience that if I do not discipline myself, I would get my email every hour just to see if I have any new messages. Then I would spend a few minutes going through my emails and maybe replying which would take up more time. Done continuously throughout the day, it becomes a massive time waster. I think that scheduling time to deal with emails is a great idea. This is also the same approach I use for dealing with comments on my website.

    3. Use the 4Ds of email time management.

    This is my favourite tip. I think deleting useless emails is a must. My inbox is already cluttered and if I do not delete emails that serve no purpose, they will just take up space. Also, I hardly return to read the emails I save anyway. Getting things that can be done asap done is a great tip too. There is no point letting our to do list pile up if we can help it.

    4. Unsubscribe to any email lists that are no longer valuable.

    This is also important. There are too many lists to join and some of them just bombard my inbox with sales pitches and offers. I have already made it a point to unsubscribe from lists that I cannot be bothered to read and my inbox looks much slimmer. Now I just have to be ruthless and delete all the other emails I have no need for.

    I agree that effective email time management will free up hours in our day to get other things done. Thank you for sharing this article!

    Irving the Vizier

    • Irving,

      Some great further analysis, thanks. You make a good point about using a set time to do everything. I mention different e-mail I try to do the same thing with comments (like you), twitter and numerous other little things. Regulating these things to certain time periods certainly does decrease distraction and helps you focus on what you’re doing at hand.

      I rarely have more than 4-5 e-mails in my inbox. Usually they are only ongoing conversation threads. Other than those it is complete em’ and delete em or file ’em.

      thanks for great comment, have a wonderful day.

  3. Hi Steve,

    Powerful tips here that I will keep in mind moving forward.

    I’m a big fan of setting time limits for checking my emails and doing so once per day. The 4 D’s work well for me too. I scan subject lines, senders and either read or delete immediately. If the email doesn’t me move in the direction of my goals it’s an instant delete.

    One area I need to improve on is the number of email accounts I have. For a while I wanted 1 account for this, 1 for that. Now it’s become a time drain so I’ve gradually deleted certain accounts of check them once every few days. It pays to narrow your focus.

    As you aptly note, you have time to do everything you want or need to do because the person who decides how you spend your time if YOU. Great reminder that those who feel they don’t have enough time need to heed.

    Thanks for sharing your insight Steve.


    • Ah ha!

      Another good point about multiple emails. I am a little bit on the fence about this one. I have multiple e-mail accounts also and I find it to be fairly effective, though I do see it as a bit of a time waste. Basically it helps me maintain separation between personal,SSS and my affiliate business e-mails. Why get messages from people I already know what they are going to talk about in a general fashion. So in some ways it helps but it certainly does take up extra time.

  4. Hey Scott good tips I take it you are a fan of David Allen? You might want to rephrase point four I pretty sure invaluable is meant to be something that is really sought after, perhaps you mean un-valuable?

    • For sure. I don’t, “live and die” by his every word, I do find on his books to be very helpful and contain some really good ideas on productivity and getting things done.

      you are hundred percent right on the meaning of invaluable, a little embarrassed I let that slip through. Thanks for pointing that out.

  5. Great points Steve. I’m a big GMail user and I’ve found that using the filters can help a ton as well, so that the really important stuff is never missed, and the rest is filed away for me to read later. I’ve saved a crap ton of time using this one simple function. And having many GMail, it adds up to more productivity.

    • Robert,

      You make a very good point, that is one reason why I love Gmail. it is great to spend, what matters and not waste excessive time playing around with emails. Productivity is really making the right choice on a series of very very small time wasters.

  6. Hi Steve

    Great tips. I am more disciplined with this aspect of my biz than others. I delete heaps without opening them. Usually marketers flogging the same programs…..yesterday they all even had the same subject line! Not even bothered to be original.

    With one account I check several times a day as that is where my own biz queries come in. Like to answer queries ASAP as I believe it reflects on my customer service. Less important ones I go back to later.

    This year will definitely be a year where I am strict with my time management cos I have got specific goals to achieve to move my blog and business to another level.

    Patricia Perth Australia

    • Patricia,

      You make a good example with excepting stuff having to do with business inquiries. you are right anything customer service related has a higher importance on a rapid reply particularly when you’re trying to grow your business and make a name for yourself.

      Thanks for sharing and adding to the conversation and bringing up an important exception.

  7. Hey Steve,
    I was really loosing time with all my e-mails (every website and blog a different e-mail, than private e-mail, then e-mail for subscriptions…).
    Then I read a post from one of our fellow bloggers where he recommended using Mozilla Thunderbird for e-mail management.
    I must say that I am on a roll since then. I added all my e-mails to it and I keep it open all the time. I can move mail from one account to another with one click, I mean it is great for multiple accounts. Not to mention that it’s free 🙂

    And as far as your tip #4 goes, I unsubscribe from everything that doesn’t teach me something, or if I get an e-mail every single day with a sales pitch and title like “available for 24 hrs only” or “this is your last chance”.

    • I think I’ve made read the same post on Thunderbird. Now that you mention it I remember thinking I was going to check it out, and I never did. Bad me!

      Once again I tell myself I’ll have to check it out when I have the time. Probably means I’ll forget never get to it, but Thunderbird does sound like a program that certainly could be of a lot of use.

      I agree sometimes it’s the volume of the offers. I get a lot of offers from people figuring that 19 out of 20 times I will likely not want to follow their offer. But if on the 20th time they offer something worthwhile it is worth it.

      Like you said out any, “I made 7,000$ a month with a simple button click” or other extremely spammy offers simply shows me that they do not have anything that would interest me. Because they have lost my trust.

      Thanks for the comment Brankica, have a great day.

  8. Yes, Steve, it is easy to get caught up in e-mail and think you are actually “doing” something. Today I came across this great quote by the brilliant author “Unknown” which certainly explains why e-mail gets the attention it does.

    “In absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia.”

    Aloha. Janet

    • Janet,

      that is a great quote. And a lot deeper than just e-mails. I often find I go through things by rote in the morning just, “because” while I gather my thoughts, wake up and decide what actual goals I have for the day. When you go into the day with clearly defined goals it also helps to keep you from wasting this time.

  9. Hey Steve,

    That’s what I did with a large chunk of my email

    I usually set a timeframe of when I deal with it (mostly at the end of the night), unsubscribed to just about everything. I don’t spend too much time in email since a lot of social media handles communication but yeah, these are some ballin tips.

    • Thanks Murray,

      I would say a fair amount of tips are likely true for social networking also. in regards to the fact that they can be large time sinks, and distractors if you have constant tweets and Facebook updates coming in all day. I’m still trying to get a balance with this. I still do it frequently enough, but I definitely think you can spend too much time, at least from productivity and output standpoint.

  10. Barbara,

    I actually like e-mail too. Don’t get me wrong. it may take me a day to get back to somebody, but I’m usually pretty good about it. Unlike Facebook and Twitter where I have not developed a good enough system I know things dropped the crack sometimes. But I do think getting through e-mails expeditiously is important.

    Really it is what works for you. It sounds like your system of your folders makes it so that you keep your e-mail crisp and clean. in the end that’s what matters. Having a system that works unless you get through it as quickly as possible without wasting tons of time.

  11. Hi Steve, these are some excellent tips, as email can suck a lot of your time. This is something I plan to work on this year, cutting my subscriptions down and moving just about everything I can into an RSS reader. The best thing I ever did for myself with email was to set the auto-check function down to twice during the work day. Every time the new message notifier would pop up, I would be compelled to look at my email. This was hugely distracting, as I got out of the groove of whatever else I was doing. Frequently, the email was unimportant compared to what I was originally doing!

    Oh, and I also have been using Thunderbird for several years and wouldn’t consider changing. 🙂

    • Narrowing down checking your e-mail twice a day really can be a huge benefit. Like you say is easy to be distracted every single time an e-mail pops up. Even if you don’t leave what you doing it can take you “out of the moment”.

  12. Hey Steve,

    I think it’s a good thing I don’t spend a lot of time on my email. I usually check it when I open my computer and then at a 4-5 hour interval. I usually leave all my emails that aren’t urgent and in need of a reply for later when I will enter my email just for that (answering).

    So, I actually don’t spend much time on my email but I check it often because you never know when an important email might arrive.

  13. Just reading some of the comments above, Murray’s caught my eye about social media. I’d not really thought about that before, but it’s true. Twitter especially @mentions has replaced a lot of my emails now.

    Funny emails are now the equivalent of letters and relegated to the history books!

    Sensible advice. The important thing is not to keep checking it. Switching time costs are huge.

  14. Categorising and filing of emails is one of the biggest time wasters there is. It may feel like you are doing useful work but that is an illusion. Get a decent email client and learn how to use the Find function to access the emails you want. You can also use smart folders to see all email from one sender, for example. And it’s so easy to delete or archive a year’s old email when they’re all in one mailbox.

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