How To Cut Your Email Time In Half

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Listen to this episode

In this 15-minute episode, I share my 321Zero Email System which is guaranteed to cut the time you spend on emails in half.

What you’re going to learn:

  • How International Power (a company in England) was able to reduce their total email traffic by 54%
  • Useful codes I use in my subject lines to indicate the action required for the recipient
  • How to bulk unsubscribe from all your email newsletters

Key Quotes:

“Ultra-productive people don’t check their email throughout the day.”

Read Full Transcript

Hey, you time management ninja, you. Welcome to the show. I'm Kevin Kruse, and I'm sharing tips and advice from my new book, 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management. Now, last episode, I revealed Richard Branson's secret productivity tool, and today, you're going to get my 321Zero email system, so that you can get to inbox zero, and cut the time you spend on emails in half.

But first, I want to send you a cheat sheet, just for this show, just for email mastery. All you need to do is send a text message to 44222, send the word ACHIEVE, or head on over to the website, productivity-podcast.com, and you can instantly download the 321Zero email mastery system.

Now, let's begin. Imagine, if you could cut your email processing time in half. How much time would that save you? According to a survey, conducted by McKinsey Global Institute, the average office worker is spending 2.6 hours per day reading and answering emails, which is one third, 33% of a forty hour work week. It's probably why so many of us are working more than a forty hour work week these days.

What's worse is that smart phones have now tethered us to email, so we're checking it constantly: while we're driving, sitting with our family at the dinner table, even in the middle of the night. You've got to stop the madness, you need to reclaim all these hours in your week. Here are seven steps to master your email.

First, step number one. Unsubscribe from all those email newsletters that you get. I mean, do you really need to get emails daily from all those fashion websites, those flash deal of the day offers, or those buzz feed-y, everything's a click bait news headline that the article never matches up the headline that you clicked on? You can't be giving permission to all these strangers, all these companies to interrupt your day. They are getting in your inbox so that they can get into your mind. They make money when they interrupt you successfully.

So, here's what you do. Just search, go into your email inbox, and search on the word unsubscribe. You're going to get a list of all those email newsletters, are going to come up, and you can manually unsubscribe them, or the ones that you really don't want. Save yourself a lot of time, and instead, you can go to a website called unroll.me. All you need to do is, give it your email address, it'll analyze your inbox and give you an entire list of every single email newsletter that you subscribe to. You can unsubscribe with one click, or just tell it to roll it all into one weekly digest.

Last idea on those email newsletters, I don't even use my primary email address for any email newsletter. I subscribe to a lot, it's a good way to get information from the gurus out there, the consultants, the experts, the industry magazines. I set up a second gmail account that I just use for the junk mail. Keep all these email newsletters out of your primary inbox.

Step two, turn off all email notifications. Email is not intended to be an urgent form of communication. It's not supposed to be text messaging. These days, when we're getting anywhere from 100, to 250, to 500 emails a day, to have a little ding go off, or a little buzz on our phone, or a little square window pop up on our monitor every single time, is a sin. We need to be productive, which means we need to be focused. We need to shut off all of those push notifications, whether you're on they desktop or on your phone.

Step three, think twice before you forward, cc, or blind cc anyone on a message. Wall Street Journal reported on an experiment that a company in England did, International Power. They reduced their total email traffic by 54%, by over half, just by encouraging their executives to think twice before they forwarded an email or added anyone to the cc line.

Too often, we add someone to the cc just because we want to keep them in the loop, we're afraid of not giving someone information they might need. In reality, you're just contributing to the information overload problem. Remember, every email you send means you're likely going to get an email back, with some kind of reply. The less you send email, the less email you're going to receive.

Step four, use the subject line to indicate the action required. Use the subject line wisely. It's a pet peeve of mine, a blank subject line, a cryptic subject line, a subject line that doesn't change even though the thread of the conversation has changed four times over the last month. You want to indicate the subject of the email and the action it requires.

For example, you just might want to start a subject line with "FYI", which means "for your information", you're just passing it along, there's no urgency, it's just a courtesy. You might start a subject line that says "action required by date", and then the subject. That tells someone, especially if they report to you, "Hey, this is a to-do list item that I'm going to follow up on. Here's the due date."

You can always use "NRN", which means "no response needed", and that can cut down on all those, again, just little emails that clog up your inbox, that says, "Thanks," or "Looks interesting," or "I'll read it over the weekend." You send someone some information, and put "NRN", and then they will know not to respond.

My favorite, I use it all the time, especially, really, I should say only, with people who I know, I work with, it's "EOM", I put "EOM" in the subject line, which stands for "End of Message". I might, say, write in the subject line, "Let's meet for lunch at one o'clock at Corner Bakery, EOM". As that email shows up in their inbox, they're going to get the entire message right there in the subject line, and then they can delete it, they don't need to click it open and read. It would be ridiculous to put in the subject line, "Lunch", and then they have to open it up, and I say, "One o'clock at Corner Bakery". Use "end of message", and then put your entire message, if it's short, right in the subject line itself.

Step five, we're burning through these. Step five, keep emails short, really short. Think like a text message. There's legendary stories about Jeff Bezos at Amazon. He will often forward an email to an executive with just a single character, like a question mark. It might be an email from an upset customer, or a report of a technical crash, so he'll forward it to somebody with a question mark. Everybody knows that means, "All right, you've got to look into this, and solve it, and get back to me when it's solved," but he can communicate in a single character.

There's even a website called five.sentenc.es, so five sentences, but there's two dots there. It says, you know, you really need to limit your emails to five sentences or less, and then you can automatically add a footer message that says, "Click here, why is this message so short," and then it sends them to that website to explain that, "Hey, out of a sign respect for your time, as well as mine, I'm being really brief here."

Here is ... Step six is my 321Zero system. See, ultra productive people, they don't check their email throughout the day, they process their email during scheduled times. They think of email communication, and social media communication, as any other task that needs to be done. If it needs to be done, how much time should I allocate to it, and when do I want to do it? A lot of ultra productive people will check their email once a day. Tim Ferriss was famous for having VAs process all of his email, and, you know, only very occasionally get back to people after it's already been filtered.

To me, that's not very practical for most of us, and that's the kind of relationship and customer service I want to provide to my tribe, so what's practical for me is to check, I should say, to process my email three times a day, that's the 3 in 321Zero, and each time I only go through it for 21 minutes. It's like the Pomodoro system, I'll just set the timer on my smartphone for 21 minutes, and then I start processing the email in my inbox.

It sounds silly, but when that timer is going down, when it's ticking down, it kind of makes a game out of it, and I'm less likely to click those stray links that go off on the internet, and then I read something, I click another link and I've read another article, and next thing I know, twenty minutes has passed, and I only went through one message in my inbox.

I check it, I process it, three times a day, 21 minutes each time, with the goal to get to inbox zero, 321Zero. You don't want to use your email inbox as a to-do list. Remember, we're living life from our calendars. When you're processing, in this 20 minute time period, how can you burn through, and clean up the emails so quickly? That's where step seven, it's called the 4D's. Every time you open an email, your brain just needs to go through the 4D's: Delete, can I delete it? Of course, this day and age, delete really means to archive. You don't need to erase emails forever, we've got almost unlimited storage, you can almost archive things.

If you can't delete it, can I delegate it? Can someone else take care of this? If so, forward that message. If I can't delete it and I can't delegate it, can I defer it? Now, the recommendation here, remember we're on that countdown clock, to clear through, to process our email. If you can take care of something in five minutes or less, you probably want to just do it, and take care of that email right then and there. If it's going to take you longer than five minutes, you want to defer it, which means schedule it on the calendar, don't leave it there.

If you're using Microsoft Outlook, you can just drag the email onto the calendar, and then fill out the popup window of when you want to come back to that task. If you're using a Google calendar, as I am, then when you open an email, you're going to see, at the top towards the center of the screen, a drop down menu called "More", and when you click on the "More" button, there's a drop down item called "Create Event". That's going to open up the calendar, and copy that email text into a calendar entry. If I can't take care of it within five minutes, I hit "More", "Calendar Event", I look over the next few days, and schedule that ten minute, fifteen minute, thirty minute window to get back to somebody, and then it is out of my inbox.

Finally, you do it. If you can't delete it, can't delegate it, and it's less than five minutes to do, then you're just going to do it. Those are the 4D's to burn through and clean up that inbox in record time. How do we apply it? I think this is pretty applicable information, but what are you going to do with it, I mean right away? The big take aways: shut off your email notifications. That can change your life right there. Go to unroll.me, you're going be shocked at how many automatic newsletters you're subscribed to. A lot of them, you didn't even do it. People are spamming you, putting your name on things. Maybe you bought something from an online store, and they automatically added you to their system. Go to unroll.me and clean out all those emails.

Try the 321Zero system. If it sounds crazy, adjust it to your needs. It's designed to just get you out of the habit of checking throughout the day. Maybe checking, or processing email three times a day is too frequently, maybe you only want to do it once a day. Maybe you're going to say, "Kevin, this will never work. My boss, she demands that I respond to her within an hour, otherwise she's going to think I'm goofing off." Well, you might want a new boss, first of all, but, okay fine, set it up so that every hour, on the hour, you give yourself time to process email.

If you say twenty-one minutes isn't long enough, give yourself thirty. If it's too long, give yourself ten. The idea is to break the habit of constantly checking, and you want to process your email in identified, scheduled times on your calendar.

You'll feel great having all those inbox to-dos out of the way and scheduled, that whole Zeigarnik Effect, that stress effect of having undone things will disappear, and you're going to sleep better at night. Remember, just for this episode on email mastery, I created an instant download, 321Zero email master system, a little infograph. You can download it, print it, tape it up on your monitor, leave it next to your laptop, and it will remind you of the 4D's and the 321Zero system. I hope you will just text the word ACHIEVE to 44222, or visit the website, extreme-productivity.com.

Come back for the next episode, because it's with my favorite high achiever. I'm going to tell you what Mark Cuban's number one piece of advice is, when it comes to productivity.

Until next week, remember, master your minutes to master your life.