How to Make Email Work More Efficiently for Your Small Business

Email’s speed and flexibility make it ideal for connecting with your customers, your employees, and your vendors.

Yet email, like every tool, has its limits and its pitfalls—not the least of which is how using email inefficiently can be detrimental to a small business.

To improve efficiency, it’s important to implement clear directions for email use.

Inefficient Email Management Costs Small Business Owners

Email is a critical communication channel but can result in a lot of wasted time, depending on how you use it.

Researcher Diana Booher points to a joint survey between her team and the University of Northern Colorado’s Social Research Lab that found:

  • 42 percent of respondents spent 3 hours or more per day reading and responding to email.
  • 55 percent of respondents checked their email hourly or just left it open.
  • 31 percent spent at least 20 minutes daily searching for information to include in email messages or to attach to an email.
  • 48 percent of the survey’s respondents called email their primary method of communication, above phone calls, texting, and face-to-face conversation.

While email makes it easy to contact customers and coworkers, it also makes it easy to lose focus.

In one study, researchers Gloria Mark, Daniela Gudith, and Ulrich Klocke examined the “disruption cost” of interruptions such as email alerts. Their study found that people who are interrupted at work need 23 minutes, on average, to return to the pre-interruption level of attention they were giving a task.

That attention restart appears to come out of a person’s individual capacity for managing stress and frustration. Email interruption, then, could be a significant factor in employee burnout.

How to Become an Efficient Emailer

Here’s how to ensure you and your teams use email efficiently and effectively.

Prioritize the headline

Many emails waste recipients’ time because the subject line doesn’t provide sufficient information about the content of the email.

Subject lines like “meeting canceled” or “quick question” require readers to click through to process and prioritize the message’s contents.

Instead, encourage staff to think of the email subject like an article headline. The reader should be able to tell from the subject line what the email’s main idea covers.

For example:

  • “Meeting Cancelled” becomes “June 6, 12:00pm meeting canceled.”
  • “Quick Question” becomes “Question re: shipping manifests (not urgent).”

Don’t confuse speed with efficiency

Email is often the fastest way to send information, which can make it feel like the most efficient. Yet the fastest option for the sender may turn out to be a time-waster for the recipient.

“Faster isn’t good or bad, better or worse,” says Sarah Peck, Founder and Executive Director of Startup Pregnant. “Faster is just faster. If you’re sending a lot of stupid messages faster, that’s not great.”

Instead, ask two questions:

  • Why am I sending this message?
  • How important is this message?

Then, you can organize the content of the message so that its purpose and importance are front and center. And if it makes sense to move the message to a different medium, do so. More on that in a moment.

Support the right to disconnect

In 2017, France implemented a law requiring workplaces with more than 50 employees to allow workers to ignore emails and smartphone notifications during non-work hours.

“There’s a real expectation that companies will seize on the ‘right to disconnect’ as a protective measure,” says Xavier Zunigo, Director at French research agency Aristat.

Companies elsewhere may not be under legal requirements to encourage disconnection, but they can still implement disconnection policies. When employees are free to ignore email during non-work hours, they can focus on the rest and relaxation required to enable maximum focus when they get back to work.

Even during work hours, it is important to develop good email-checking habits. Matt Plummer, Founder and CEO of productivity app company Zarvana, recommends turning off all email notifications during the workday, and committing to only opening your inbox once per hour—no more than that.

4 Instances When You Should Skip Email Altogether

In the not-so-distant past, email was used for everything. Correspondence, scheduling, conversations, and project collaboration all happened over email because email was the only digital option available.

Today, however, many of those tasks are better handled by software specifically designed for them.

1. For scheduling, use a shared calendar

Digital calendar options abound. Many integrate with existing email programs.

A shared calendar also provides the benefits of a visual interface. When overlaid with a user’s personal calendar, it allows everyone to see at a glance whether a proposed meeting time conflicts with an appointment that’s already been scheduled.

2. For an answer right away, use messaging, phone or in-person conversation

Email eats time precisely because we treat it as a form of synchronous communication. We respond to emails as they arrive, much as we respond to the phone when it rings.

Transitioning to direct-messaging software can be simple for workers who already use these tools. To reach efficiency goals, set expectations for messaging use at work, Dustin York writes at the Harvard Business Review. This includes outlining what is permissible work banter and what isn’t.

3. For project management, use project management software

Project management tools are specifically designed to help teams set goals and track progress—all the things required to manage a project.

Project management requires knowledge of who can work on the project, who is in charge of which tasks, which deadlines have been met, and whether tasks need to be reprioritized based on project needs. Email, by contrast, excels at providing asynchronous communication with clear documentation.

Managing projects in email chains only creates distractions your team doesn’t need when they’re trying to complete the tasks they’re assigned.

4. For persuasion, stick to one-on-one video chats

In a study published in the March 2017 issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers M. Mahdi Roghanizad and Vanessa K. Bohns found that people tend to underestimate compliance when talking to strangers face-to-face, and they tend to overestimate compliance when connecting via email.

In other words, people are less likely to be persuaded by an email and more likely to be persuaded when in direct conversation.

As a result, communication that involve convincing someone to do something for you—whether it’s buying a product or granting a promotion—are best handled face-to-face.

To maximize the efficiency of your team’s email use:

  • Understand where email is draining time and attention from your team.
  • Implement the right tools for various tasks.
  • Send more effective messages when you do use email.
  • Give everyone the chance to disconnect.

If email is still a sticking point for you or your team, Salesforce Master Solution Engineer Iman Maghroori has a helpful webinar where you’ll learn the various options for connecting Salesforce to your inbox.

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