Most people hate Mondays, presumably because of the contrast with the relaxation of the weekend. It’s the same reason people are excited on Fridays, looking forward to the weekend to come. Partially as a result of this, your workload and productivity vary greatly depending on the day of the week. Tapping into this data, and understanding which days are your busiest, can help you in a number of ways. So when are your busiest days? You can usually tell by observing daily email trends.
Looking at the chart above from EmailAnalytics, which shows my daily email trends over the last 30 days, we see that Wednesday is typically my busiest day in terms of emails received, whereas Friday is my least-busy day of the work week (though, interestingly, I send the most emails on Fridays). Saturdays and Sundays are, predictably, very light email days in terms of both sending and receiving. So, how can this information help me with my professional goals?
- Time management. Knowing how your email volume ebbs and flows can help you prepare for your work week. For example, if you have multiple projects that require heads-down time, you can schedule them to be done on days when you know the email volume is light. If you know you’re about to face a busy email day, you can go in early or make adjustments to your responsibilities in anticipation of that volume.
- Root cause analysis. Knowing that a particular day is exceptionally busy can also aid you in identifying the root causes of your busyness, which can then help you address potential problem points. For example, let’s say you learn that your busiest day of the week is Thursday. Thursday also happens to be the day of the week you meet with a particular client. Digging deeper, you learn this client’s expectations, requests, and actions are the root cause of all this extra work—to the point that it compromises the ROI of their account. If that’s the case, you may need to charge more money or set firmer expectations.
- Variable optimization. Understanding the balance of your workload across the week also helps you pinpoint and optimize the variables that lead to that distribution. For example, let’s say Monday is your busiest email day, since you’ve unintentionally made that the main day in which you communicate with your team. You can change this by requesting a split, focusing on different subjects on different days of the week, or by distributing your communications more evenly throughout the week.
Ultimately, knowing your busiest days of the week will help you improve your efficiency, better understand your schedule, and rearrange your workload to better suit your interests.
The General Data
To help understand your workload (and that of your employees), we can first look at the general data, then compare it to known trends from external research. Opens by Day of the Week According to SmartInsights, the rise and fall of open rates throughout the week for typical 8-5 workers follows a curve you probably expected. Sundays have the lowest open rates, with Saturdays close behind. Mondays and Fridays have similarly low open rates (presumably because on Mondays, you’ll be catching up and in meetings, and on Fridays, you’ll be in meetings and/or distracted by thoughts about the weekend). Peak email days are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
This looks pretty similar with what EmailAnalytics reports for me. Timing It’s also worth looking at the most common times for emails to be sent, opened, and/or read. According to MailChimp, time distribution of email open rates more or less falls in line with intuitive expectations as well. Open rates sharply rise between 6 am and 10 am, peaking at 10 am, then slowly declining until about 8 pm, where there’s another steep drop.
Compare that with my hourly traffic breakdown from EmailAnalytics and you see a similar trend line:
Key Variables to Consider Of course, there are some significant variables that will affect how these stats play out for you:
- Industry. Your daily workflow may change based on the standards for your industry. For example, Monday mornings and Friday afternoons tend to be highly busy days for flight reservations. Your own cluster of businesses, clients, and vendors may favor one day over the others simply by following the lead of the other organizations.
- Position. Your specific position may involve heavier email frequencies on certain days. For example, if you’re a supervisor in charge of maintaining project progress, Thursdays and Fridays may be busier days as you attempt to wrap things up before the weekend.
- Corporate culture. Your company’s culture and history will likely play a role in your daily email volume too. This is mostly due to the fact that emails tend to warrant other emails; if someone starts an email conversation on a Monday, it’s going to warrant multiple more emails from other people. Gradually, your employees will get on the same schedules, resulting in an off-balance workload.
- Project alignment. Your emails will also likely align themselves with specific projects and meetings, which may ebb and flow in specific ways throughout the week. For example, if you have a weekly meeting with a specific client, you may see a surge of emails leading up to and following that email.
- Holidays. Your weekly schedule is likely to be disrupted by the occurrence of holidays (i.e., the volume is going to plummet).
Ultimately, by the end of this exercise, you should know how your email volume changes from day to day—as well as how that email volume affects your time spent.
What to Do Next
Once you have these data points in front of you, you can start making positive changes to your professional life and productivity. Your goals are to improve your efficiency, improve your productivity, and reduce both clutter and time waste. Rebalance Workload Distribution The first and most powerful effort you can make is rebalancing your workload distribution, which you can harness in multiple different ways:
- Reschedule standing meetings. Chances are, you’ll see increased email volume associated with any standing meetings you have. For example, if you have a staff meeting, you’ll likely have follow-up emails with recaps, conversations about what happened, and discussions involving next steps and takeaways. If you have a client meeting, you may be wrapped up with handling new requests, collecting information you didn’t have on the phone, or following up with other needs. If you notice a correlation between email volume and days with multiple standing meetings, see if you can reschedule those meetings to be more evenly distributed throughout the week.
- Delegate excessive tasks. If there are days where your email seems bound to your workload, bogging you down with excessive communication, consider delegating the tasks that put you over the limit. You may be able to enlist the help of a coworker with a lower volume for that day of the week, or hire a freelancer to ease the burden on you.
- Start earlier or later. Finally, you can adjust your timing and work schedule to reflect your anticipated level of work. For example, if you know that Tuesday is your busiest email day, you can go into the office early, and schedule extra time for managing emails. If you know that Friday is usually much less communicative, you can go in later, and use Friday as a catch-up day.
This simple rebalancing will redistribute both your emails and your effort so you can handle them more efficiently. Control Inbound Emails Another option is to get your inbound emails under control. Oftentimes, inbound emails and requests are the root cause of the time you spend on email, so if you can reduce the pressure here, you’ll likely be able to lower your email volume and time spent on email each day.
- Unsubscribe. You may be reluctant to unsubscribe from the bulk of your currently subscribed lists, perhaps due to thinking that someday, you’ll be glad you’re subscribed, or perhaps due to some level of laziness. However, it’s almost always worth the small time investment; take the time to manually unsubscribe from any inbound emails that compete for your attention. Chances are slim that any recurring email blast is worth the time it takes to read and/or delete it on a regular basis.
- Request new email parameters. If you have some control over how your clients, employees, or coworkers email you, employ it. Request that this group of people follow certain protocols when emailing you, such as emailing before a certain time if they want a same-day response, or formatting their emails in a way that makes their intentions clear. It may be tough to enforce these rules, but with your productivity at stake, it’s certainly worth a request.
- Set up rules. You likely get regular emails from sources that you can’t outright ignore, but that you don’t need to read or respond to right away, such as notifications from external platforms. To keep these emails under control, establish automatic filtering rules in Gmail. With these, you can set up clear parameters that automatically direct your incoming emails to specific folders meant to contain them.
- Learn to speed read. Finally, hone your ability to read through emails quickly, and ascertain their value. This will help you minimize your total reading time, rending your total inbound email volume less important in the long run.
Restrict Email Hours If you find yourself overwhelmed with the task of constantly checking email, you’re not alone. Most employees keep an email app open throughout the day, getting distracted every time a new email comes in, and taking action to respond to it as quickly as possible. Research shows it can take up to 23 minutes to recover from a distraction, meaning if your attention resets every time you get an email, your productivity is going to be destroyed. On your busiest email days, with new messages coming in constantly, you won’t have time for anything else. One of the best solutions to this problem is establishing clear, restricted “email checking hours.” Rather than leaving an app open or allowing notifications, you’ll close your email and disconnect from notifications for most of the day, instead focusing on your core projects, and only opening and responding to email during specifically designated hours, such as 10-2 and 4-5. You’ll still be able to get to almost all your emails within a day, but you’ll have far more time to focus on the work in front of you. Improve Email Writing Efficiency You’ve already optimized the emails coming into your inbox, but what about the emails going out? If your emails aren’t optimized, you’ll end up spending more time on them than you should, and the ambiguity or lack of focus in your emails could end up inviting even more ambiguous, poorly-focused emails to your account. You can improve your email writing efficiency with the following strategies:
- Understand when email is necessary. Before you fire off an email, think to yourself: “is this really necessary?” Emails are best reserved for the transmission of information that doesn’t warrant conversation; if you anticipate a back-and-forth, you might want to place a call, or start a chat thread instead. If you’re emailing to send old information, which your recipient already has, your email may also be unnecessary. Only write an email if you’re telling somebody something new, or if you’re documenting something that hasn’t been documented before.
- Start with a purpose (and a subject line). Every email should have a purpose, and that purpose should be concisely state or clearly implied in your subject line. There’s a reason email marketers spend so much time and money perfecting the subject lines of their respective email blasts; it’s one of the most important features of an email for both open rates and organization. You can use this to eliminate much confusion.
- Work backward from action items and takeaways. If your email has a purpose, that purpose can probably be split into key takeaways (the concise bits of information that your recipient needs) and/or action items (the tasks that remain to be completed, by your recipient or other parties. The best way to write your email, then, is to start with these bottom-line needs, and work backwards. That way, the entirety of your email will revolve around its most important constituents.
- Cut unnecessary elaboration. After you’ve drafted an email, take a minute to read over the body and eliminate any information or elaboration that’s redundant, or otherwise unnecessary. You’ll be surprised to learn how much of your email content can be cut without significantly altering its main message. As you grow accustomed to this process, you’ll naturally start writing more concise, focused emails—and you’ll spend less time doing it.
Identify Complicating Contacts In some cases, the root of your most egregious fluctuations could be a specific individual or organization. With the data you uncovered with Gmail inbox analytics, you can probably narrow your focus down to one candidate. If you do find the culprit, whether it’s a client or an employee, you can start to resolve the conversation with the following tactics:
- Open discussion. Your first step is to open a dialogue. Let your frequent recipient know that they’re violating the norms and best practices of emailing, or that they’re taking a disproportionate amount of your time (politely, of course). Instead of just criticizing, make some active recommendations; for example, could this person improve by consolidating their multiple, small emails, into one bigger email per day? Could this person’s emails be improved with the inclusion of bulleted lists of key takeaways? Provide some direction, and your recipient will likely comply—especially if they see it as an opportunity to be more efficient.
- Ongoing feedback. If the emails change slowly, or don’t change at all, provide your client or employee with ongoing feedback. Point out specific instances that disrupt your work, and make recommendations for how they could handle it better in the future.
- New controls. If the problem continues, and you don’t have much control over the situation, you can enforce your own controls to get a handle on the situation. For example, if you know one particular sender will bog down your inbox, set up a custom rule that all emails from them be sent to a specific folder, to be read at your convenience. If you’re tired of being interrupted, let them know that you won’t be able to respond to email during certain hours of the day, and ignore any emails that come in outside those hours.
- Termination. Obviously, firing an employee over emailing habits should be a last resort. The problem is even more intense if you’re considering firing a client. But in some situations, a client or an employee is simply too much work to justify their retention. If they’re unwilling to compromise, unwilling to change, and consistently cost you more time than they save you, they shouldn’t continue working with your organization.
Is It Worth the Effort?
Is it all worth it? I’ve spent the better part of this guide explaining how understanding your busiest email days can improve your productivity and save you time, but it takes time to measure your email traffic, and even more time to implement the changes necessary to see results. Ultimately, whether this system is worth the time investment depends on the individual. Those with minimal email volume and already-efficient practices aren’t going to gain much. Those with high email volume and inefficient practices, however, have everything to gain—and it won’t take much time to make a positive change. Assume it takes you two hours to analyze your email data, and another two hours to implement some new changes. Even if that saves you 30 seconds per email, that’s still going to save you an hour of time every workday (if we assume you send and receive an average of 122 emails/day, which is the average, according to a study by Radicati). In four days, you’ll make up for the time invested, and by the next week, you’ll be five hours ahead. Even if you’re unsure about your own email workload, or email-based productivity, it’s worth the effort to analyze your habits and potentially improve them.
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