Productivity Challenge Chapter One – Email Management

Alright folks,

How are you all today? Hopefully you guys are ready as I’m kicking off my series on the productivity challenge. It’s structured as 7 challenges to help you save AT LEAST 15 hours during your day. Basically, you become 3 people. Legal cloning!

Anyways, if you want to follow the email course instead, just follow this link and sign-up. You’ll get all chapters faster, within 7 days.

Another thing before we begin, you need to take this test. It will help you really put a $ value on your time, which is key for the challenge.

You have 15 minutes…

Now, you are ready? Let’s begin with challenge No1.

Save more than 45 minutes per day by becoming an e-mail master

There are two kinds of people reading this right now.

First, if you are a productivity veteran, you might be thinking: “I know this! I’m already a Master of my Email”. Still, read on, you might find some of the newer tools interesting.

The second group, you guys are working at a corporate job or in your business and are getting swamped by requests. Have you ever answered an important email 20 days after it was sent to you? That happened to me. And doing the things I’ll be outlining helped me greatly. I’m sure they will help you as well.

What is the first thing to do to control your email?

 Step 1 – Define the types of emails received

You have 5 kinds of emails:

  1. Simple Transactional: Clear, easy to answer questions. You are an expert in your field and someone wants to use that expertise.
  2. Complex Transactional: Again, someone uses your expertise, only this time it ain’t that easy! You have to do more than 5 minutes of research to really answer that question
  3. For Your Information: You are the boss. Your employees just want to keep you in the loop of the decision that they are about to make.
  4. Reply to All: Somebody decided to tell the whole company about how they have completed report 1B. You usually don’t care much for these.
  5. Subscriptions: You subscribed to a mailing list because you find the subject interesting (or you were forced to do so to purchase an item).

Step 2 – Spring Cleaning (or autumn, winter, summer)

You know your categories, now you need to clean up your act. It’s fairly straightfoward, do these 3 things:

  • Stop using “Reply to All”. It’s simple really. The more emails you send, the more emails you’ll receive. Look at it this way: when you reply-all to 15 people, you might think you are sending one email but really, this is 15 different communication events. If you think of doing the same with letters, you’ll see how silly it is. Also, those 15 people that receive your email will have to make a decision to answer it or not. That’s wasting their time. Then, those who decide to answer it might do so with a relatively unimportant question or comment, now wasting YOUR time.
  • Use a service like Unroll is a wonderful tool that cleans your inbox. For all your subscriptions and less time-sensitive emails, you can tell unroll to send you a daily condensed summary. Currently I have 228 contacts in my “Rollup”. That means that instead of potentially receiving 228 emails per day, I only get one. Now THAT is powerful. If you are using one of the popular webmail clients (like Gmail, Yahoo, etc.), you can click here to sign up for their service.
  • Disable all types of pop-ups, ringtones, clippies, etc. telling you that an email has arrived. This is distracting and preventing you from focusing on doing your current task (a bit later in the challenge, we’ll talk about focus a bit more). Here are instructions for some popular clients:
    • Outlook 2010 / 2013
    • GMail (includes Desktop, iOS and Android instructions)

Step 3 – Schedule time for Email

This is the last step, and the most important one. You need to schedule your email processing time. Also, you need to STICK TO YOUR SCHEDULE.

Some of you might be asking “Steph, how the hell is this supposed to help me save time?” Well, that’s simple. You know how, two days before you are set to take some vacation or trip that you seem to be on overdrive? You can accomplish a month’s work in those two days right? Or how, if you give an employee a day to do a task, they’ll do it in a day;. if you give them two days to do another task, they’ll give you your deliverables 48 hours later? That’s Parkinson’s Law (not the disease). Here is what it states:

“work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”

What that means is that if you give yourself 1 hour to do email, you’ll take one hour. If it’s 2 hours, you’ll take 2 hours. If you don’t have a schedule at all, well, sometimes, you’ll take all day and wonder what happened!

So, for my part, I schedule 1 hour separated into two half hour sessions. One at noon and one at 4PM. That lets me go through about 100-150 emails a day without too much problem.

Don’t put the email slots at the beginning or at the end of your work day. Why? When you start working you are full of energy, ready to take over the world. Then if you read your email, you sit down, hunched over for half an hour or an hour. This will kill your energy. Also, email is a tool for other people to communicate their priorities to you. While that’s nice, the first thing you should do in the morning is work on YOUR priorities. At the end of the day, you are also making a mistake if the last thing you do is read your emails. If you find one person asking you to fix a problem, you’ll spend the night thinking about it instead of relaxing and recharging your batteries.

Now, here is how to deal with each email type to make the most of the tight time slots that you’ve scheduled:

  • Simple Transactional: Just answer the email. Unless you want to use it as training to an employee you are coaching, just answer the question.
  • Complex Transactional: Add it to your list of To-Do. Also, depending on the person, you can answer right away with “I’m looking for an answer and will get back to you in X hours/days”. One thing when you do this: Always keep your commitments. If you have a good reputation, this will be an acceptable answer and you won’t be bothered until the X days are up. If you don’t have a good reputation, be ready for the “are we still on track to get the results on X” emails. Also, we’ll look a bit further into managing to-dos further ahead in the challenge.
  • For Your Information: Forget it. Move On, as they say. This e-mail is most likely useless.
  • Reply to All: Same as FYI emails, but even more useless.
  • Subscription: These should have already been removed with If not, or if it wasn’t possible (as Unroll is only for web mail), no worries. We’ll look at some e-mail rules and scripts that can help you achieve the same results further along in the challenge.

Further Resources – Want to learn more about the topic?

  • Manager Tools: Manager Tools is a podcast series, a community and training company that, quite frankly, are incredible resources for a manager. For email, I’d recommend this podcast “Got Email?”. It’s a bit old and the tools I talked about weren’t available but the basics are the same.
  • Tim Ferris: Read the 4-Hour Workweek. It is based on the idea of becoming more efficient with our limited time. If you like actionable advice and anecdotes, this is for you. Tim Ferris was running a successful company and had developed an email schedule where he only had to check them once a week. He also has a few more tips on the matter in the book.

And here are a few articles that discuss the same subject. Some use different tips, but the idea is the same.


You have now taken your first steps into becoming a productivity god. Look out for chapter two next month as  we go further into the subject with step-by-step instruction for creating automatic filters. BTW, if you want to receive my blog posts directly in your email, sign up for the Newsletter here. If you want to join the 7 day challenge email course and get all 7 chapters within a week, you can sign up here.