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How to Spot Bad Email Habits (and What to Do Next)

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Around the world, email has become a focal point of productivity. It’s our main medium of communication in business (with 270 billion emails sent per day), a staple of our personal lives, and a hub for organization and efficiency.

With so much riding on your email usage, all it takes is one or two bad habits to compromise your efficiency. So how can you learn to spot these bad habits, and what can you do to mitigate their effects?

Examples of Bad Habits

Almost every user has at least one bad habit eating away at their productivity. These are just a few of the most common:

  • Spending too much time on email. The average employee spends more than 4 hours a day on email, but if you’re a low-efficiency worker, that number might be closer to 5 or 6 hours. Excessive time reading, writing, and organizing can derail your daily productivity.
  • Responding too slowly. Most people in most industries expect a response within a day. If you take too long to respond, it can result in miscommunications and lost opportunities.
  • Mismanaging email threads. Email threads with multiple respondents can get complicated fast. If you don’t manage them carefully, with concise messages and focused action, they can take too much of your time.
  • Letting your inbox remain disorganized. A disorganized inbox makes it harder to find messages when you need them, and can interfere with your task efficiency as well.

How to Spot Them

So how can you spot these bad habits? If you’re especially introspective, you could review your own habits, or you could talk to your coworkers if you trust them to give you honest feedback. But the most reliable way is to use an objective, third-party app to measure your email usage and provide you with inarguable data points.

For example, if you use Gmail, you can use analytics for Gmail to gather visual reports on who you’re emailing the most, how much time you spend on email, how your emails are organized, and even the composition of your threads. Here are some other good email analytics tools.

What Now?

Let’s assume you’ve gathered the requisite data on your email habits. What can you do now?

  • Identify your weakest points. You probably have a handful of bad habits, but don’t focus on all of them at once. Instead, zero in on one or two habits that you’d like to change, and work on them first.
  • Challenge yourself to create a new habit. Changing a habit is hard, but it’s the only sensible way forward. Challenge yourself to create a new habit, such as marking all your incoming emails, or timing how long it takes you to draft one. With baby steps, it should be easier to gradually come to a new way of emailing.
  • Measure your changes. As you incorporate changes, keep an eye on your email analytics; if your changes are effective, you should see positive results. Otherwise, you may need to go back to the drawing board.

You can’t flip a switch and become a highly efficient emailer. All of us have strengths and weaknesses, and all of us can stand to improve. Instead of treating this as a one-time optimization, treat this as a commitment to ongoing improvement. Keep an eye out for new ways to improve your habits, and constantly push for higher productivity. It will pay off in the long term.

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