Last year, there were over 205 billion emails sent and received per day, according to digital communications research firm Radicati. That’s equivalent to 29 emails per day for every single person on Earth – and obviously, it’s far from an even distribution. People in the business world average 122 emails, and according to a 2015 Adobe survey, 6.3 hours on email, per day. According to my calculations, we better be spending that time and effort well.
Fortunately, time spent on email can be used productively in many different ways. Here are four strategies for capitalizing on those 6.3 hours per day:
Use it to evaluate and improve your writing
Email can be a great resource for learning to write better. It allows you to reflect back and evaluate the writing of yourself and others in previous messages, pitches, pieces and releases. You can hone in on whichever aspects of writing you’re trying to improve and learn from how others do it better. For example, to improve at sentence structure, re-read your writing and identify the awkward or choppy parts, considering how you could’ve written them differently. If you can’t determine what would have been better, reference your emails from others and analyze the sentence structure they used in comparable situations.
People can often improve their writing by being more specific. Read back through your emails – especially after miscommunications – and see how you could have been more specific. Specificity forces you to use language that is more varied, accurate and effective. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean more detailed. Brevity is often best, especially with email, so pinpoint sentences where you could have been more concise and work toward making that style automatic. According to research cited in Refinery29, emails are most likely to get a response if they are between 50 and 125 words. It depends on the situation, of course, but short is generally appreciated as long as you’re able to convey the message clearly. And email is a perfect place to work on this.
Use it as an opportunity to improve your organization skills
I dare you to go a week without organizing your emails in any way and not miss or lose track of a responsibility. It would have to be impossible – with 122 emails a day (and probably more), organization is absolutely imperative. In the business world, your options are to learn to be organized or waste tons of time because you’re not. Fortunately, email equips you to succeed. Most email providers offer tons of great organizational tools, from folders to filters to flags-for-follow-up.
Email also provides the opportunity to optimize your organizational system. So develop a system that works for you. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but make sure it keeps you as efficient as possible, occasionally considering or testing other methods that might be better. You have full control over your email so you should arrange it however you prefer. For example, I recently discovered that I could improve my system by sorting emails through a two-step process in which they go directly into account-specific inbox folders at first. The emails stay there with other emails for that account until I have dealt with them, at which point I sort them into the more specific folders belonging to that account. This new system has made it much easier for me to compartmentalize my responsibilities and account activities.
The beautiful thing is that while you’re spending all that time on email, so is everybody else. You might as well use some of that time to establish and improve your relationships, whether that’s through contacting media connections, corresponding with clients or collaborating with colleagues. Each email takes just a tiny bit of extra effort, but compounded over time, they make a big difference.
This is particularly valuable for media relations. If you make an effort to reach out to journalists proactively, not just when you’re notifying them of company news or commenting on a trending topic, you’re more likely to secure interest. It’s all about presenting a mutually beneficial idea, and your idea is more likely to strike the journalist as such if you are providing a forward-thinking, unique idea that is insightful and helpful for the industry, not just your client. In addition, email makes it easy to organize conversations so you can keep track of which journalists are receptive to which forms of news outreach, which journalists like to banter and which journalists have said something that indicates they probably don’t have a heart.
Use tools to stay up to speed on news that’s relevant
Similar to how you can grow your network, you can grow your knowledge with email. You can set up email alerts and subscribe to media roundups and informational email newsletters. If it’s helpful, have them filtered into certain folders where they can accompany other emails with related news. This enables you to maintain an ongoing log on the topics of your choice, whether it's coverage mentioning your CEO’s name or coverage commenting on the Trump-Pence campaign’s design or stability. If used properly, email makes it easy to monitor the news that’s important to you and your clients.
These are just my top picks – there are plenty of ways to capitalize on all the time you spend on email. Four more that didn’t quite make the cut:
- Learn how to use a calendar (not optional)
- Become great at ignoring things and coming back to them much later
- Become great at ignoring things
- Learn a lot of different (and many weird) ways to say goodbye
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