The title of this post is a contraditction. The sooner you realize that emailing is not actual productivity the sooner you'll find yourself emailing less and being productive more.
This being said I feel I can share some tips for how I'm able to receive hundreds of emails yet keep my inbox fairly organized.
- Learn to love gmail.
The spam filtering is the best I've ever seen. Even if you're not in love with the web interface the reduction in noise is a must-have.
- Scan to delete
When I'm reading email subjects I'm usually take a quick pass and delete all messages that I can delete based on the subject and sender. This first pass can quickly eliminate Facebook alert noise, Google+ notes, LinkedIn replies, Eventbright registrations, etc.
- Unsubscribe from Noise Newsletters
I try to actively unsubscribe from anything that I haven't read in the last couple months. If you don't take the time to unsubscribe the messages keep coming and distracting you.
- Don't respond too quickly
Most senders don't expect a response too quickly and a surprising number of messages resolve themselves in a few hours.
- Learn keyboard shortcuts
In gmail press (?). In Windows Outlook it's the Alt Key. Learning a couple shortcuts like select, delete, archive, label can make things fly.
- If you're writing more then a few paragraphs something is wrong.
I try to keep my writing too the point and I avoid word-smithing. If something needs clarification a deeper design, specification, or presentation then a phone call is likely more efficient.
- Use the add-ons
Boomerang is an incredibly useful service it allows me to delay reading or sending a message until needed. The same company has an email game that improves email productivity through game mechanics. I use Boomerang to efficiently read and schedule emails and I use the email game to get through messages that I've procrastinated. Two other services I use are Raportive and Google Labs "Canned Response."
- Out of sight, out of mind
I try to keep my inbox messages on one screen so I can see everything I have to process. If it's not on the screen it's in a task list, archived or deleted.
- In Search we trust
I use labels very minimally. (Usually for priority) It takes me time to label, star, flag, tag or otherwise mark a message. It general it takes almost no time to search for something. I think Google could vastly improve email search but even in its current form it works much better then any tagging or organization structure.
- Email Less
Seems obvious but it does work. Getting back from a vacation I can get through all key emails in an hour or two. If that's true then simply spending less time in email will make your emailing habits more productive.