Email Digests Can Help You Focus and Be More Productive at Work
It’s an average workday, and you’re deep in the details of a project. Then you notice that a new email has just arrived in your inbox. Do you stop what you’re doing to look at it immediately?
If so, you’re not alone. But dropping everything for email doesn’t mean you have no willpower. It’s a matter of chemistry. Incoming messages of any kind—emails, texts, and automated notifications—causes our brains to produce dopamine, a feel-good chemical. (After all, someone out there needs you!) The dopamine hit drives you to drop everything and lock on to the incoming message.
Unfortunately, dopamine can’t distinguish between a vital message and that endless conversation you’re CCed on about the office softball league. So when your brain treats every interruption equally, that leads to your day evaporating in distractions.
This problem is magnified, of course, if you manage a team that handles email communication. When you’re responsible for maintaining a shared email inbox—one of those email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org—the distractions never stop. So to keep on top of your own workflow while managing other people’s, you need a way to organize and sort all those incoming messages.
Creating space for better focus
The good news is, you can redesign the flow of email notifications to your shared inboxes so that you’re interrupted less often—no more inefficient multitasking or micromanaging the rest of the team. Outpost is designed to help teams work together in a shared email address. Or, if your company has multiple shared email addresses, you can collect them all into one Outpost account to manage together.
Outpost has an Email Digest feature that helps you be a better delegator. You want to be able to jump in and help triage or problem solve, without being distracted by your shared inbox to the detriment your other priorities.
A digest is basically an email that contains a summary of other emails you’ve received recently. With digests, you can collect your incoming email into meaningful groups, and then schedule them to arrive in your inbox at specific times of day. Email digests can help you reclaim the time you spend obsessively checking each email as it comes in.
The Outpost Email Digest builder offers a few simple options for sorting email, and these can be combined to suit your needs.
First, you can decide what types of conversations to include:
- All Mail will include all incoming messages, whether they’ve been read or not.
- Mail Assigned to Me will include only messages that have been assigned to you. (We’ll talk more about this one in a moment.)
- Unread Mail will include only those incoming messages that haven’t yet been read.
Next, you can select which mailbox to include in your digest. Depending on the situation, you might want a digest to include mail from all the mailboxes in your Outpost account or only one of them:
Lastly, you can have digests sent to your inbox on any days you prefer, at any specific times. You can even configure a digest to send once an hour. Or if you just want to take stock at the end of the day to see what’s left to address tomorrow, set one for right before you go.
I’ll share some good digest designs to enhance productivity in this article, but you can always experiment and see what works best for you. You can build as many digests in Outpost as you like, and delete a digest at any time.
Increasing your productivity with email digests
One of Outpost’s productivity power tools is that it gives you and your team the ability to assign conversations to specific users. Shared inboxes are busy places, so when you assign conversations to a specific member of your team, everyone knows who’s handling what.
Of course, emails will come into that shared inbox all the time, but it’s helpful if you can focus only on your own assignments, instead of every single incoming email, especially if you’re a manager, working with other members of your team who send the bulk of your email responses.
Here’s a great digest configuration to try for this focus:
This digest would arrive in your inbox every hour, but the great thing about email digests is that you control their scheduling. If your job doesn’t require responding to emails immediately, you can pick one or two specific times of day instead, and have your email digests sent to you at those times.
If your role involves responding to email right away, this hourly digest is a great option. You’ll still deliver prompt replies, but you’ll be spending just a few minutes an hour focusing on new conversations, instead of losing focus every time one arrives. And then you have the rest of the hour to devote your full attention to crafting replies.
If your team works in more than one mailbox, you can configure your digest to include new assignments from all mailboxes at once, or from one specific mailbox. Since I work in two shared Outpost mailboxes every day, I’ve set up a separate email digest for each one.
They arrive in my inbox at different times of day, so I can focus on each one separately:
How to use your email digest effectively
When your digest arrives in your Outpost inbox, not only will you see all your assignments in one list, you’ll also see a preview of each conversation.
You can click on any preview to link directly to that conversation:
Now you can use some of Outpost’s other tools to help you organize these assignments:
- If this conversation is one you need to handle right away, try clicking the star at the top to mark it as a priority:
- You might also use the Notes feature to quickly add an internal note to yourself about this conversation:
Once you’ve gone through all the conversations in the digest, you can quickly sort your mailbox view to see only your assignments.
Then, proceed to your Starred folder to tackle those priority conversations first:
The email digest has allowed you to quickly sort and triage a group of new assignments. In just a few minutes, you’re all set to handle them efficiently. Contrast that to the amount of time you would have lost if you were dropping everything to look at each new message as it came in.
Helping your team be more productive with email digests
If you’re an administrator of your team’s Outpost account, you can use different kinds of email digests to help you support your team. In any shared mailbox, incoming email ebbs and flows, and needs to be watched so it doesn’t get out of your team’s control. This is especially important on small teams.
Here’s a very helpful digest configuration for admins—it includes unread mail only, with hourly delivery:
Depending on your needs, you can have this digest include new mail from all mailboxes in your account, or you could set up a separate digest for each mailbox. That choice depends on the size of your team and whether the whole team has access to all mailboxes. Experiment and see what makes administration easiest for you.
An hourly digest of unread mail lets you efficiently assign and prioritize conversations for your team. Click on any preview in the digest to link right to the conversation. Then assign it to a team member. If you can see that the conversation is a high priority, you can even add a star while you’re assigning, so that the assignee knows to handle it right away.
Repeat this process until every conversation is assigned. Need a quick way to confirm that they’re all handled? Sort your inbox view so it displays Unassigned messages, and make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
A digest like this can also help you monitor your team’s overall workload. That’s as easy as keeping an eye on how many unread emails you’re seeing in each digest. If a digest contains a very large number of unread messages, then it’s time to check in with your team and see if they need some support.
How email digests help your team respond promptly
If your team can focus on new assignments once per hour instead of dropping everything to look at each incoming message, suddenly they have the bandwidth to handle each assignment more thoughtfully. Not only that, by creating this kind of focus, your team can respond to messages faster and better.
Here’s where some other Outpost tools come into play, working in concert with those email digests.
First, your account’s Analytics page will show you your team’s current average response time, as well as the response times of individual team members:
It’s a best practice to establish an expected response time, so your customers know when they can count on hearing back from your team. Your Outpost analytics will help you keep track in real time of how well your team is meeting that commitment. If you notice that a particular team member is falling behind, you can adjust the number of conversations you assign to them in the next hour.
As you’re scanning conversations in your digests, you can also be watching for themes. Are many of your customers asking about an upcoming company event or a new policy? That’s a good time to write a template. Outpost’s Template tool lets you create complete emails or paragraphs for your whole team to use. Templates help automate parts of your email replies, so they’re great time-savers.
You’ll be amazed how much more you and your team can accomplish in a day when you let email digests keep the interruptions under control. Remember, your time belongs to you, not your email. You’ll find some other creative uses for email digests in our help center.
Posted in Email