Studies show that in-office employees spend 50% to 80% of their time communicating. That sounds like a huge amount of time but, when you consider the number of emails, chats, and meetings you engage in, that stat is an accurate reflection of the typical employee.
Though communication is critical for brainstorming, problem-solving, and keeping people informed, the way most people communicate is reactive and wastes a ton of time.
Rather than immediately responding to every message and meeting invite you get, you should be strategic about how and when you reply so that you’re able to spend more time focusing on the activities that drive your success.
This article provides actionable communication strategies to:
- Reduce the amount of time you spend in your inbox
- Make email communication with your team more efficient
- Stop wasting time in meetings
- Limit distractions from chats
Following these tips will significantly reduce the amount of time you spend on trivial communication and ensure that the majority of conversations you have are actionable and relevant.
Let’s dive in.
Reduce the Amount of Time You Spend in Your Inbox
McKinsey research found that the typical professional spends a whopping 28% of their time reading and responding to emails. This is a huge loss of productivity that is compounded by the fact that every time you stop a task to check your email, it takes an average of twenty-three minutes to fully refocus on the task you were working on.
Here are some time-saving email communication strategies:
- Spend time to write clear, concise emails. Typing up quick responses can take up more time than spending a few minutes to carefully write an email. Fast replies often create miscommunications and lead to additional emails to clarify what you were trying to say.
- Use an inbox management system. If you set it up correctly, it will save you time and prevent important emails from slipping through the cracks. If you’re not sure how to create one, our free inbox management guide will walk you through how to create a system that’s designed with your role in mind.
- Create email templates for common messages. If you send some of the same basic messages a couple of times each week, personalize templates instead of starting from scratch. It will save you a ton of time.
- Schedule two to three times throughout the day to respond to emails. Doing this prevents emails from killing your focus and lets you spend your day working strategically as opposed to just reacting to the messages you receive.
Keep in mind that taking actions to reduce the amount of time you spend on email every day is one of the most effective communication strategies for boosting your productivity.
Make Email Communication with Your Team More Efficient
While there are limits regarding how much you can reduce the amount of time you spend on external emails, there are huge opportunities to streamline email communication within your team.
Here are some examples:
- Develop shorthand codes to reduce the amount of time you spend writing emails. As a virtual assistant service provider, we work with super busy professionals, many of whom use email short-hand to save time on replies. Here are some examples.
- Adding a dash in the subject line to indicate that an email is urgent
- Adding three dashes to the end of emails to indicate a response is required
- Adding an asterisk in the subject line to indicate an email has key info but does not require a response
- Set rules regarding when to send new messages and replies. This will reduce the amount your entire team receives. Here are some effective rules to start with:
- Don’t reply all unless everyone needs to know your response.
- BCC people who need to be informed but do not need to reply to emails in group threads.
- Save quick questions and comments for chat or in-person conversations.
- Give your team twenty-four hours to respond to emails. Creating a culture where people don’t feel pressured to respond immediately frees them to focus on important projects and not have to be constantly checking their inbox. If something urgent comes up, people should reach out via chat, text or phone call.
Limit your shorthand codes to a few messages that are easy to remember and document them in a shared space.
Since every organization’s email culture is different, introduce these best practices during new-hire onboarding and to your entire team when you first adopt them. In the beginning, people will forget some of the rules you set so when that happens, reply back with a reminder of your best practices.
How to Stop Wasting Time in Meetings
According to Atlassian, the average employee attends sixty-two meetings per month and about half of those are considered a waste of time.
- Send out an agenda and any relevant materials at least 48 hours in advance of any meeting that’s thirty-minutes or longer. This will ensure your meetings have a clear structure and people are able to come prepared.
- Only require people who are speaking in the meeting to attend. If anyone else needs to know the information discussed, send them meeting notes afterward. Their time is much better spent working on projects that drive your companies success.
- Reserve meetings for brainstorming and problem-solving. Those topics need meetings because they require people to bounce ideas and debate decisions - both of which work best in real-time. Most others can be discussed via email or another asynchronous form of communication that doesn’t pull people from their work.
- Follow-up emails with an email about the next steps. One of the reasons why most meetings are a waste of time is that very few actions are taken based on the topics discussed. Sending a follow-up email with all of the agreed-upon actions and who is responsible for them ensures that meetings drive results.
Limit Distractions From Chats
Though chat tools are seen as the solution to wasting time on email, TechCrunch reports that the average Slack user spends nearly two and a half hours every day. The speed and ease of chatting can make it a time-consuming distraction if left unchecked.
Here are some communication strategies that limit distractions caused by chat:
- Turn yourself offline when you need time to focus on projects. This is the most effective way to limit disruptions caused by chat.
- Create chat groups for projects, clients, troubleshooting and other popular discussion topics. This limits how often people are spammed with conversations that are irrelevant to them and prevents important messages from slipping through the cracks.
- Set response time expectations with your team. For example, one hour on work days and twenty-four hours on weekends. Sharing expectations with your team ensures that everyone gets timely responses while also preventing people from thinking they have to immediately stop what they’re doing and respond.
- Limit notifications for direct messages and your most important channels. Doing this will ensure that you’re only interrupted by urgent messages. Like with email, you should set aside a couple of times per day to review the remainder of your messages.
Keep in mind that chat’s ability to foster quick conversations can be just as big of a productivity killer as it is a collaboration tool. To best leverage this communication tool you need to limit the amount of time you’re active.
The Top Communication Strategy
The underlying thread of all the communication strategies in this article is that in order to focus on the activities that drive your success, you need to set boundaries. Limiting what messages you will respond to and how quickly you will do so lets you shift from spending your days reacting to other people’s requests to focusing on the activities that drive your success.
Save Time with an Inbox Management System
Download our free guide for creating an inbox management system that dramatically reduces the amount of time you spend on email and prevents important messages from slipping through the cracks. In it you'll learn:
- How to choose a sorting approach
- Best practices for creating clear sorting rules
- Tips for implementing your inbox management system + productivity hacks
- [Pro Tip] How to delegate your inbox management to an assistant
About the author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.