8 strategies to improve your efficiency with effective email and calendar management

Supriya V

Published on October 4, 2022

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Have you ever heard someone say, “Time is money”? Forget it. 

Yes, we trade our time (and skills) for money. That’s true in any line of work whether you’re an entrepreneur, a small business owner, or a working professional. Yet time is more than money. 

I know what you’re thinking. We also trade money for time like when you fly from Boston to New York instead of taking a Greyhound. Or maybe it’s when you use DoorDash for lunch rather than cook something at home. Or it could be when we pay for software and services that save us time. 

However, time for money is never an “equivalent exchange” (hello, my fellow alchemists!). Time, unlike money, is a nonreplenishable commodity. It takes time to make money and money to save time, but we haven’t yet figured out how to “make” more time. What we can do is try to save our time (efficiency) and do more with what we have available (productivity).

Philosophical ramblings on time, money, and life aside, why is this relevant? 

As a professional, your time is (probably) more precious than a philosopher’s. 

So why spend time on email and calendar management?

You want to spend time on email and calendar management because you have better things to do. Overflowing inboxes, never-ending meetings, and a world of distractions hardly give you any time to do much else. 

Okay, I know what you’re thinking—“Surely it can’t be that bad!”

It’s worse. The numbers don’t lie. Here are three data points that paint a tragic picture of how we work in 2022:

  1. We spend half our workday in meetings (20+ hours each week).
  2. A lion’s share of the rest of the day, a third of our workday, goes to email
  3. On average, it takes 23 minutes and 45 seconds to refocus after an interruption

On an average 8-hour workday, we’re left with less than 90 minutes for work (being generous!). No wonder we feel like there’s always a lot on our plate. It’s a very tiny plate.

Well, it’s time to take back control. It’s time to make your email and calendar work for you, say no to distractions, take the reins of your “most precious” time, and do your best work. 

And here’s the good news. Just a few easy changes such as planning your workday, using time blocks, grouping meetings, creating an email routine, and setting up inbox rules make managing your email and calendar a breeze—all in a few minutes each day. 

Effective email management helps you avoid the distraction of all those “you’ve got mail” notifications. It keeps your inbox organized, helps you stay focused, and frees up your time for more impactful work. Being a calendar management pro helps you optimize the use of your time, makes your meetings more productive, and ensures nothing ever falls through the cracks.

Here are 8 strategies for effective email and calendar management:

1. Plan your day, every day (or week, at the least)

As they say, failing to plan is planning to fail. So why risk it? It takes as little as 10 minutes to plan your workday. Start by scheduling time for priority tasks on your calendar. Then schedule time for recurring tasks such as checking email, replying to customers, sending a report, or even planning your next workday. At the same time, you’re also deciding how much time each task will take (time boxing), which helps you avoid Parkinson’s law (work expands to fill the time available).

It’s not just building a schedule for work. You’re building a plan for your day. So reserve time slots for personal commitments, lunch, and coffee. And remember to stand up and stretch every hour. Whether you make your plan like Cal Newport—at the end of each day—or at the start of the day (like me), planning each workday helps you get a clear view of what’s on the agenda so you can focus on what’s important.

2. Build an email routine that works for your business

To manage an overflowing inbox, you need an email routine. Checking every new message as soon as it comes in is not it. Try allocating a fixed time every day for email so you can build a routine.

It can be one or two big chunks of time when you use the Only Handle It Once (OHIO) method to check a message, take action on it, file it away, and move on to the next one. Or it can be smaller time blocks spread throughout the day—whatever works for you.

Here’s how Tessa, our Marketing Director, does it:

“I try to limit checking my email to thrice a day. That’s three 10-minute blocks where I’m triaging emails in my Priority Inbox—scanning new messages, replying to stuff that takes less than a minute, snoozing emails that need further action, and deleting/archiving everything else so my inbox is as clean as it can be. Then I have a 30-minute time block dedicated to replies where I follow up on all the emails I snoozed earlier in the day.”

Worried about clients who might be expecting an immediate reply? Set clear expectations with a variation of Tim Ferriss’ note under your email signature:

“Due to high workload, I am currently checking and responding to email twice daily at 12:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. ET. If you require urgent assistance that cannot wait, please contact me via phone or Slack.”

3. Enable Priority Inbox. Let rules and folders do the work for you.

So you have an email routine and it’s working, but do you still receive too many emails? 

Welcome to the club. It happens to everyone, but there’s a simple way to automatically organize and sort your inbox so you only see what’s important to you. 

When you enable Titan’s Priority Inbox, it learns from you—the messages you open, the ones you delete, people you frequently collaborate with, and keywords in your messages. Emails that are important to you float up to the top, and everything else moves off your plate for later. The best part? Setting it up takes one click. Just one. 

While you’re at it, add a few rules and folders to automatically move and flag incoming messages to reduce email overload. You won’t have to sift through tons of newsletters and promotional messages every time you check your email. 

4. Use time blocking for deep work and more

Back to “calendaring,” time blocking is a structured way to plan your day. It’s exactly what it sounds like—planning in blocks of time—15, 30, 60, 90, 120 minutes. How long your blocks are is up to you, but the goal is to prioritize your tasks and structure your workday.

Our friends at Clockify have a full guide on time blocking, but here are the basics:

  1. Start by planning. Compile a list of all your tasks for the week, and prioritize them. It’s a good idea to split tasks into smaller ones when possible.
  2. For each task, define your time blocks, when you plan to work on them, and how long you will work on them. Don’t worry about being precise on day one. You’ll get better with time.
  3. Act on your plan. Begin working on that first time block. Stop at the prescribed end time. Then start on the next time block, and repeat until the end.
  4. Revise your time blocks. Especially in the early days, your predictions can be wildly off the mark. So pay attention to how long it takes to complete each task, and then update your calendar blocks accordingly.

It can be a little overwhelming at first glance, but this forces you to prioritize, reduces procrastination, and even helps you strike a better work-life balance. Championed by CEOs such as Bill Gates and Elon Musk, time blocking is an incredible calendar management technique to take control of your time.

 
5. Make your calendar reflect your true availability

“Hey, got a minute?” No. 

We all know that a “quick chat” is never going to be quick or just a chat. That’s how ad hoc meetings—the bane of our work lives—are born. That’s when our productivity starts digging its own grave. It dies. The culprit in most cases? You and your calendar.

Say no—loudly and clearly—as often as you can. It’s easier to do that when your calendar reflects the availability you have. The key is to block time that you know is already taken—tasks, scheduled meetings, even breaks—so your calendar accurately reflects your schedule.

Anyone looking at your calendar knows when you’re free to talk and when you’re not (and you know it too). That way you avoid the very real possibility of being pulled into (or you pulling your co-workers into) a meeting that should have been an email. It also helps you cut down on double bookings and meeting conflicts.

 
6. Schedule similar tasks together; save meetings for last

Time batching is when you group similar tasks together on your calendar to reduce the amount of context switching you have to do each day. 

Let’s say you’re working on a marketing campaign today and have to write a blog, draft posts for social media, and collaborate with a freelance illustrator for that all-important banner visual. If that’s the only thing you’re working on today, great. But what if you also have to block time to check emails, reply to customers, follow up on invoices, and attend meetings during the day? That can mean moving from writing a blog to checking email to meeting that illustrator to following up on invoices and then getting back to those social media posts. (Even thinking about the shuffle makes my brain hurt!)

So what is time batching? You group similar tasks (all the marketing campaign-related ones in our example) and schedule a long time block so you can work on all of them in one sitting without switching contexts too often or jumping onto a call halfway through. Speaking of calls and meetings, it’s a good idea to schedule them back to back for uninterrupted focus time.

 
7. Make your meetings more productive

It goes without saying (as usual, I’m going to say it anyway) that no amount of email and calendar management helps if you’re stuck in meetings where time is relative (like it will never end). 

That’s why it’s crucial that you plan every meeting carefully. 

And yes, if you aren’t already doing so, keep your meetings short. You need to make meetings as productive as they can be, of course, but you’ll be surprised how often you might be missing the basics—”Why are we meeting again?”

 
8. Add other time zones and bring your calendars together

Do you work with clients on the other side of the world? Add other time zones to your calendar. It’s a simple hack that saves you tons of time when scheduling meetings. Changing the time zone of your work calendar is also useful when you’re traveling so meetings don’t pop up at impossible times (like that 3:00 a.m. conference call).

If you use multiple calendars for work, make sure they are in sync to avoid conflicts. If your calendar service doesn’t support multiple accounts, try adding it to the default calendar app on your PC, Mac, or mobile device so you can see everything at a glance. 

Shameless plug: With Titan, you can add other time zones and sync multiple calendars in a few clicks. 

Take control of your time

And then there are all the little things that pay off in big ways. You can customize your email signature with a link to your meeting scheduler (like Calendly). You can build email templates so you can quickly fire off the perfect message each time. And you can create contact groups to avoid filling in a bunch of email addresses. 

These strategies can help you manage your email and your calendar more effectively, but it’s important to remember that one size doesn’t fit all. No two inboxes and calendars look alike, so your mileage may vary with these strategies. But the golden rule is consistency. You might see some quick gains in efficiency as you start to plan your workdays, use time blocks, and build an email routine, but overall productivity gains show up only with repetition. 

The more you do it, the better you get at email and calendar management. That means more uninterrupted time for deep work, personal commitments, and everything else under the sun.

What are you going to do with all those hours back on your clock?