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Stop Struggling With Email: Sharpening Your Inbox Skills

I’ve been using email since forever. One of my first phones was a BlackBerry—back when they were actually blue (thanks, Dad!).

Since my inbox has always been in the palm of my hand, I’m well aware of its benefits and pitfalls. I’m comfortable saying that email is a wonderful communication tool. But we could be a lot more efficient when we use it.

Here’s how to avoid getting lost in your inbox.

The Evolution of Email

While email traces its roots to the 1960s, it wasn’t until the 1990s that services like AOL, Prodigy, and Compuserve made inroads in the consumer market. Shortly after, email gradually crept into the enterprise, finally gaining widespread use in the 2000s.

While texting, instant messaging, and video conferencing have displaced email in certain situations, we still regularly light up the inboxes of our colleagues and loved ones.

Why We Still Use Email in Business

Email is a workplace standard. No matter which domain you’re using to host your email, you can send messages to anyone.

Since email communication occurs asynchronously, senders have time to think through their word choice. Email encourages deeper, more substantive conversations than other mediums.

Email also gives users an audit trail. It can prove who sent a message and when it was sent. This capability makes it easier to manage client accounts and document interactions.

How I Use Email

I don’t open my email first thing in the morning. I’m confident that if there’s something important to address, it will trickle up through other filters. The people I work with know that if there’s an urgent issue, then I expect a text, phone call, or Slack message. Slack, by the way, is our de facto communication mode and how we collaborate as a team (no matter where our team is).

A majority of American workers obsess over their inboxes. But with a little creativity, you’ll realize that you don’t need to be in your inbox as much as you thought.

Better Email Behaviors

Even if you have excellent email skills, it can get better.

First, keep your emailing to a minimum for a few reasons:

  • It’s difficult to convey the appropriate tone in email.
  • Emails can unnecessarily prolong debates.
  • You’re more likely to get a reactive response to an email.

When you do send emails, keep them short and sweet. According to Guy Kawasaki, emails should be precisely five sentences long—no more, no less. Shorter emails seem curt, and longer emails won’t be read.

Before clicking send, ask whether your message might be more useful in other channels like Slack, WhatsApp, or iMessage. If you need an immediate response, steer clear of the inbox.

Helpful Tools

If you have to deal with email, here are a few interesting email management tools that I’m using:

  • Sortd, a tool that turns your email into lists.
  • Yesware, which helps with campaigns and follow-ups.
  • MailChimp, a tool for streamlining email blasts.

You’ll also want test whether your provider’s webmail or native client provides a better experience. Then ask yourself whether you’re more productive in your inbox on a laptop, mobile phone, or iPad Pro.

Email In the Future

Email will remain relevant in business for a long time still, meaning that you need to continue sharpening your skills.

To make sure you stay productive, don’t forget that it’s usually easier to just call someone instead of writing an email. It’s quicker and less time consuming than email conversations.

And if you want an instant response but you’re afraid to pick up the phone, ping your colleague on Slack (my platform of choice)—don’t send an email. You’ll sleep better at night.