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Employees are spending almost a third of their workdays reading and writing emails (28% according to a McKinsey study.)Add to that time spent searching through files and inboxes for information (19% of the workday), and nearly half of the day is spent on tasks not directly related to a person’s role.
Any time saved during email writing can have a huge impact on a person’s overall efficiency at work. This isn’t just good news for your boss. It means you can stop putting in so much overtime by simply learning how to write emails faster.
Some tips will take longer than others to implement, so choose one or two to start and then slowly make your way through the list. Tiny steps over time will make a lasting change possible.
Have templates for common email structures
Emails that you write over and over again can be saved as templates. Rather than typing out “Please find attached my latest invoice…” or “I’d like to schedule a meeting, and below are three possible times…” you could have them ready to go.
Think of all the moments you could claw back if you had templates for:
“Email templates—which are pre-written emails you can easily modify—are a great way to save time and increase work productivity. They can also be a helpful tool to improve your communication style, build important relationships, and ensure you don’t forget critical information or make crucial followups with business partners,” content marketing specialist Laura Schwecherl writes.
Batch your emails (to prevent energy leaks)
The temptation to dive into your inbox first thing can be overwhelming, but if you spend your peak energy there, not much will be left for the other tasks you need to accomplish. Of course, this will depend on the type of work you do and what your colleagues and boss expect. But you can still limit the time spent on this.
Check in to see if there is anything urgent that needs your attention. You could even set a timer to make sure you don’t get caught reading through a long email chain. Then, set aside time later in the day, when your energy is dwindling to go back and reply to emails. You’ll ensure you get your to-do list done faster by spending less time composing emails.
“When it comes to fitting email into your daily schedule, it’s a good idea to try and set aside time when your energy levels are naturally lower,” Jory MacKay, time management expert and editor of RescueTime said.
Your boss may have their own ideas about the best way to file your projects in Outlook or Gmail. But what really matters is filing them in a way that helps you find things faster. You could have a system that’s based on job number, the point of contact’s name, or a company/project name.
Sarah Mischinger of Coding Writer says, “Set up logical and intuitive folder structures so you can find documents you want to add to your emails with ease. How many minutes do you think you spend on searching for something on your computer per day? It’s probably more than you realize.”
Use Gmail Smart Compose
If Gmail is your primary work inbox, then you’re in luck, because they are constantly working to add more features that will save you time. The Smart Compose feature shows you (in gray) a logical completion to your sentence. If you were intending to type that, you just hit tab and it writes the sentence for you.
“Last week at Google I/O, we introduced Smart Compose, a new feature in Gmail that uses machine learning to interactively offer sentence completion suggestions as you type, allowing you to draft emails faster.” –Google Blog
Automate your follow-ups
Take templates one step further, and let your email system tell you when to send the follow-up. This is another feature available in Gmail. You might have seen an older email resurface in your inbox with the words “Sent three days ago. Follow up?” beside it.
According to Gadgets 360 “The Nudge feature will essentially remind users to respond to emails in their Inbox. This feature will put emails that you have forgotten to reply to (or follow up on), on top of your Inbox list.”
You’ll effectively eliminate the time spent searching for an email chain you need to reply to or ask that a client or colleague follows up on soon. You can also adjust the settings of the nudge to match how long you like to wait before sending a follow-up email.
Unsubscribe from every unnecessary email newsletter
Unsubscribing to something you no longer read may seem like another task that takes time. But clearing out the clutter in your inbox will have lasting time-saving benefits. Only the emails that actually pertain to what you need to know will show up, saving you scrolling time and helping you better focus.
According to SaneBox, only 38% of emails in your inbox are important and relevant. This means 62% of the emails in the average inbox can be processed in bulk, meaning unsubscribes and even email filtering that can get rid of mass emails for you.
Have snippets for commonly asked questions
Another time zapper at work is answering the same question over and over through email. Save yourself some time and have a place where you record the answer once and then you can point people to the answer. Snippets can be kept in a place where you simply use a keyboard shortcut to paste them in, or you can save them in the notes section of your phone or in a Word doc.
Alternatively, you could also create a blog for your commonly asked questions and then just paste the URL into an email reply to your colleague. Larger companies may have a place for you to store these answers on an internal server or website.
Embrace voice assistants
You might be a fast typist, but chances are you’re an even faster talker. It’s worth a test, at any rate, because using a voice assistant or Word’s built-in voice-to-text feature could save you significant time. HubSpot’s Scott Toulsey found a remarkable speed up when composing emails. “In fact, I completely stopped “typing” my emails, because it took so dang long. Now I compose emails at eight times the speed.”
Compete against yourself to save time
Gamification of work is nothing new. It helps make your job fun, and it puts a competitive personality to task working for you, rather than against. If you find yourself getting distracted while writing emails or dilly-dallying, then consider setting a time to try to beat your last personal best email time.
“Another reason why you should compete against yourself is that you redefine what success means: it becomes a sign of mastering a new skill and improving yourself,” said Emily Johnson, a content strategist at OmniPapers.com.
Write first, then edit
When you’re precious about every word and sentence that you write, you’ll be tempted to rewrite as you go. This isn’t the fastest way to get your email written though. Be sure to write out all your thoughts first, typos, formatting errors, and all. Then, go back and edit so that you aren’t trying to do two competing tasks at once.
Software expert Simon Hayes says, “There’s a really frustrating pattern that one can fall into which I call “instant edit syndrome.” It’s basically where as soon as you’ve written a sentence – or sometimes, even just a phrase – you see some problem with it, and either delete it or immediately start frenetically fiddling around with it “to make it right”. What’s happening is that you’re actually trying to perform two incompatible roles – creator and critic/ editor – near simultaneously.”
Use point form notes
If you were brought up in the formal email message era, then you might be tempted to write well-thought-out, paragraph-laden emails. Workplaces that are quite traditional or academic in nature probably still trend toward very formal email etiquette.
The problem is that it doesn’t lend itself to fast email writing and reading (respecting both your time and your recipient’s.) Bullet points are quicker to type out and as a bonus, they’ve been shown to keep your reader’s attention better.