Email Productivity: Tame Your Inbox with This Simple Technique

Content was originally published on on February 23, 2017.

What if there was a simple email productivity technique that helped you process your email faster, saving you 30 minutes or more every day? What would that mean for you, reclaiming control of your inbox and freeing up several hours each week?

First, let’s be clear, email is a massive problem. In a recent survey my company Maui Mastermind conducted with 353 United States business owners, 57 percent cited email as their single biggest time waste.

The Radicati Group’s “Email Statistics Report, 2015-2019” shared that the average businessperson receives 88 email messages a day.

One of the biggest challenges with email is that it takes too much mental energy to process, and it mixes lower value messages that don’t need your immediate attention with those few messages that are truly important and need a response now. This tempts us into spending too many hours inside our email on the search for those few mission critical emails. Of course, while we are checking our inbox, we get caught up in taking “just a moment” to handle a few of these other messages that caught our eye.

Here is a simple email productivity technique to regain control of your inbox and be much more productive. It is designed to work with your internal team. For me, roughly 30 percent of my overall email comes from my internal team, that number goes up to over 50 percent when I factor out the junk or trivial “notifications” that my assistant is able to screen out before I ever go to my inbox.

The “1-2-3” System for Your Subject Line
I was talking with one of my business coaching clients who runs a medical group in the Midwest when he said, “David, I get emails from my team and I don’t know if they need me to do something, or if they are just keeping me in the loop.

It’s a common problem – getting emails with no clear direction if this is just and “FYI” or if it is in fact something you need to take action one, and with what kind of urgency.

We suggest our clients use the “1, 2, 3” subject line system. Here’s how it works. Simply start off your subject line with a 1, 2, or 3.

A “1” means this is time sensitive and important email that you need to take action on right away.

A “2” means that you have to take some action, but it isn’t an urgent/important matter. Handle it in a reasonable time frame.

A “3” means no action is required on the part of the recipient, simply scan the email for content when convenient.

Here’s how this looks in practice:

2: Notes from Franklin call 2/5/15” This tells recipient they need to take action on the e-mail.

2 Mark; 3 Sarah: Two follow-up items still needed to complete Sullivan Project” This tells Mark he needs to take action and Sarah that this is just FYI for her.

Now you and your team can quickly scan through your inbox faster, and with less mental energy. This is especially true when you’re out of the office and checking email on your smartphone.

It allows you to ignore the 2’s and 3’s until you’re back in the office, but to open and deal with any 1’s right away.

Make sure you clarify what really is a “1” with your team. In my company we expect that under normal circumstances someone might send out one or two emails in an entire week that are marked as a “1”. More than that and likely we need to have a private one-to-one conversation with someone. Too much drama or too little planning ahead.

This technique gives your email recipient a simple visual way to scan his or her inbox and know which messages need immediate attention, which need action, and which are merely for their information.

If you enjoyed the ideas I shared, then I encourage you to download a free copy of my newest book, Build a Business, Not a Job. Click here for full details and to get your complimentary copy. I think you’ll especially appreciate Chapter 5 where I talk about 6 time mastery techniques to free up a full day a week.