By Jeremy Caplan, freelance writer
Your inbox is more important than your office. It’s where work really gets done. The average worker spends 28% of their time on email, according to a July McKinsey Global Institute report. That means more than two hours each workday are eaten up reading and writing messages. The quickest way to boost workday productivity is to sharpen your approach to email. Adopting the six simple techniques below will save time and make your inbox more useful.
Search, Don’t File. When you file a message, you’re not making the best use of your time. That may sound counterintuitive to those trained to neatly file away mail. But research shows that people don’t return to most messages they file. More importantly, when you want to return to a message, it’s generally more efficient to use your email system’s search function than to dig through a folder.
Not convinced? Think about how you use the Web. When you want to pick a restaurant to book an airline flight, chances are you start with a Google search. It’s not necessary to file each site you find or each plane itinerary, because you know you can Google it again. Email searching works the same way. If you’re using Gmail or just about any other contemporary email system, built-in search functions allow for advanced searches (like “has:attachment”) so that you can quickly and easily find anything you need.
Send Email Early. Send messages early in the morning, before the busy workday puts people behind schedule. Just as planes and doctors are more often on time in the morning, email respondents are more likely to reply to – or act on – messages received early. Messages with a link sent at 6 a.m. are three times more likely to see that link clicked on as messages sent at 4 p.m., according to research cited by ReviveYourInbox.com. Keep in mind that 39 of messages are opened within three hours, according to research by GetResponse, an email software provider. If a message sits longer than that, the chances of it getting read drop dramatically.
Be Super Brief. A movement has arisen encouraging people to keep emails to five sentences, much like Twitter has its 140 character limit. Research shows people spend 73 seconds per email reply, on average, so each time you shorten a message you’re likely saving precious minutes for you and your correspondent.
Filter. Create filters that sort your messages into specific folders as they arrive in your inbox. It takes just half an hour and will help keep your inbox in pristine shape. If the task sounds daunting, use a free service like unroll.me to help unsubscribe you from lists. Much as you wouldn’t leave unwanted menus or dirty dishes sitting around your kitchen, why allow unwanted messages to flow freely into your inbox?
Batch. It’s tempting to check email every five minutes. But those who do so risk interrupting their creative flow and damaging their productivity. Instead, try checking and replying to messages at most once on the hour, every hour from 9 to 5, plus once after dinner if necessary. That way you can group message reading and writing into 10 efficient communication bursts followed by focused periods of work.
Use Digital Assistants. Email apps can turbo-charge your inbox. Use Boomerang for scheduling emails for early morning delivery, for example, and Rapportive to get a quick view of an email sender’s social updates right within your inbox. Use WiseStamp to add social media updates into your email signature. And to help ensure that you’re in touch with people in your network, try Contactually, a digital assistant that can remind you of key contacts who are overdue for a message from you.
This post originally appeared on Forbes.