Email takes up 28% of the average professional’s workday, according to one analysis.
For the average U.S. worker, that amounts to 2.6 hours spent on reading and answering email per day, writes Matt Plummer, a productivity coach at Zarvana, for Harvard Business Review.
But you can save more than half of the time you currently spend on email (about 81 minutes) by cutting out time-wasting email habits, argues Plummer. He outlines a few ways we lose time to email—and how to get it back.
Save 21 minutes: Check your email hourly
On average, workers check their email 15 times per day, or every 37 minutes, writes Plummer. Even if you’re not checking your inbox, you likely read the notifications that pop up when an email comes in. Altogether, we end up constantly checking our email, getting distracted by notifications, and trying to regain our focus.
Instead, reserve up to eight minutes every hour to check your email, he recommends. And turn off inbox notifications so the pop-ups don’t break your focus, he adds.
Save 27 minutes: Move emails out of your inbox
The average worker has more than 200 emails in their inbox—and receives 120 new ones each day, writes Plummer. This onslaught can quickly become overwhelming.
If people check their crammed inboxes every half hour, look at each email for four seconds (the average time it takes to preview an email), and re-read a tenth of their messages, they’ll lose up to 27 minutes each day, argues Plummer.
To avoid getting lost in a full inbox, adopt a single-touch rule, he recommends. Archive or delete emails after your read them. For messages you want to respond to later, move it out of your inbox and onto a to-do list, he adds.
Save 14 minutes: Use the search function
Save yourself additional time by using the search function to find emails, rather than browsing through your folders, writes Plummer. Browsing through folders to find an email is 9% slower than searching with a keyword, and 50% slower than searching with a common operator (e.g., from: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Save 11 minutes: Pare down your folders
People spend roughly 10% of their total email time organizing their emails, which involves deciding where emails should go and then moving them to the selected folder. The more folders you have to choose from, the longer the process takes.
The average worker has 37 email folders, but most people only require two: one for emails you read that require no further action and one for emails you might want to read later. When you pare down your folders, you’ll save the time you would have otherwise spent trying to decide where to file your messages, writes Plummer.
Save 8 minutes: Unsubscribe from irrelevant emails
Instead of just deleting irrelevant emails (like social media notifications), unsubscribe from them, Plummet recommends.
For emails you don’t want to (or can’t) unsubscribe from entirely, try creating filters that automatically delete the specific emails you don’t want, such as all replies to a specific email chain with the same subject line (Plummer, Harvard Business Review, 1/22).