Seven ways to speed up email replies and processing

Email is a constant factor in an EA’s workday, and should be considered a key professional skill. And like any other skill, it should be developed says Steuart Snooks.

Even though you may be a whiz on the keyboard, it’s likely that you—like the rest of us mere mortals—can think and speak much faster than you can type! Yet, so much of your work as an EA is done via keyboard and mouse.

For those of us who spend any amount of time working on a computer, the bottleneck to increased productivity and the ability to get things done is ultimately typing speed. Whether working in your own inbox or your executive’s, your aim should be to capture anything you type multiple times and automate it.

This will help you:

  • Save heaps of time and unblock a bottleneck to your workplace productivity
  • Radically reduce the number of keystrokes and mouse clicks
  • Take a lot of the friction out of regular email and admin processes
  • Free up your attention for higher-order thinking and decision-making

Here are seven ways to speed up the way you process email and replies. While all these apply to Outlook, the principles can be used on whatever email program you’re using.

1. Rules allow you to move, flag, and respond to email messages automatically. Rules are almost infinitely customisable and save you enormous amounts of manual manipulation. Instead of making the same decision and action time and time again, you make the decision once.

2. Templates can be used to compose a message and save for re-use anytime you need it in the future, adding any new details if needed. In Gmail this feature is called ‘canned responses’.

3. In Outlook, Drafts are similar to templates with the added advantage that you can pre-write the subject line, any of the Address Fields (To, CC, BCC), your greeting, sign-off and signature. Once these are saved you can re-use them, making minor modifications to individual messages.

4. Signatures are a way to insert a predefined text block at the end of your email message with just one click.

5. Quick Steps. Whoa! Quick Steps—it’s like having your own personal assistant. It’s surprising how few EAs have tapped into the power of this feature in Outlook. It allows you to apply multiple actions to an email and quickly manage your mailbox. For example, you can forward an email to your executive, add a phrase to the subject line, write the text of a message and then automatically file or delete the original message—all with a click! A huge time-saver for many of the tasks you repeat.

6. Quick Parts in Outlook is a great way to instantly insert common phrases, sentences or paragraphs that you regularly use when writing a new email or reply. Quick Parts also supports text formatting such as colour, fonts and even fields, allowing you to create templates that hold a reference to and highlight the current date or mention a date which is x days into the future.

7. Auto-correct can be made to work like a text expander and allow you to auto-fill acronyms, words and phrases. For example, I type ‘NZ’ then spacebar and it expands to ‘New Zealand’; ‘7RDD’ expands to ‘7 Reasons to Use Delay Delivery for Your Outgoing Email’; and‘LM’ expands to fill in 5 paragraphs of text—instantly! The beauty of auto-correct is that you simply type your preferred acronym and then hit the space bar to continue typing your message.

And there’s a bonus eighth way to speed up email processing. More and more we are starting to use voice to text software to speed up email replies and new messages. Some of these ideas will save you big chunks of time and others are only one percenters. If you are able to improve just 1 percent per day, by the end of a year you’ll be 37 percent better! Given the amount of time you spend using a keyboard and mouse every day, it’s well worth your while to invest some effort in learning some of the above.

Steuart Snooks is an email and workplace productivity expert who works with busy professionals to help them get control of all their emails. He has developed a series of workshops, presentations, webinars, coaching and resources that outline the best practice skills for mastering your email.