Hi and welcome to my new blog. This month I’m focusing on emails and specifically how to manage email and your inbox. Do you have a method for managing your emails or are they overflowing, disorganised and stressing you out? Are you able to respond quickly and easily to emails or do you feel overwhelmed and emails frequently slip through the net and un-actioned?
What happens if we don’t organise our inbox?
So what happens if you don’t respond to an email from a client? If you don’t respond quickly, you can guarantee your customer will contact one of your competitors and will quite simply take their business elsewhere. You haven’t just lost one customer you’ve also damaged your reputation.
If you share access to an inbox it’s even more imperative that you have a system in place for dealing with emails. You need to know who has dealt with what and what needs responding too otherwise you will be either duplicating work or losing customers hand over fist!
A structured inbox
Having a structure or plan of how you deal with your emails allows you to simply spend less time in your inbox and more time on activities that will earn you money, grow your business or allow you to simply spend less time working.
Merlin Mann (a productivity expert) in 2007 devised “Inbox Zero”, a method for organising our inboxes and increasing productivity. The link to the talk is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9UjeTMb3Yk . This method focuses on categorising and responding your emails as follows:
- Delete: delete all unnecessary emails that you don’t need to respond to;
- Delegate: if your email requires input from someone else before you can respond, delegate immediately. Don’t sit on it, action it immediately so that it can be worked on and responded to ASAP;
- Respond: if you have everything you need to respond to an email. Do it immediately! Try and touch your email once i.e. you read it, you respond. You don’t save it for later, you just deal with it and file/delete it;
- Defer: this is for emails where that aren’t urgent or require immediate processing. Defer them for later but decide when you will deal with it and be strict (so it doesn’t get forgotten) and/or set a reminder; and
- Do: anything that you can do to clear the email quickly (in around 20 minutes) you should just do and clear off your “to do” list.
This system might not work for you but it’s advisable to have a structure in place to process your emails so that you can spend less time managing your inbox and more time doing what you do best!
My top tips for email organisation
With all the above in mind, I have created a few tips to help you manage your emails/inbox:
- Set boundaries
- Touch an email only once
- Create a structure: organise and categorise
- Use templates
- Unsubscribe – reduce the amount of emails that you receive each day
Set Boundaries and Time Limits
Instead of constantly checking your emails, getting distracted by incoming email notifications and responding haphazardly, set times where you will check your emails and deal with them. Try check and respond to emails just 3 times a day for around 20-30 minutes only: once in the morning; once at lunchtime and once before you finish in the afternoon (or whatever schedule works for you).
It can be very easy to get distracted by incoming emails so turn off those notifications and give your whole attention to the task you are undertaking.
This will help you work proactively and intentionally, giving each task your undivided attention but not letting your emails run your day.
Touch your Email Once
Where at all possible, touch your email once. By that I mean if you have everything you need in order to respond – do it immediately, don’t put it off – JFDI, “Just F**king Do It” (apologies for the potty mouth but what are you waiting for?).
Organise or Categorise your Emails
If you don’t want to use Merlin’s Inbox Zero method, devise your own method which works for you but do it and stick to it so that if you were hit by a bus it would be immediately obvious to anyone what you had and hadn’t dealt with. Have as many categories as you want/need but be strict and process your emails according to your rules.
I speed read emails and categorise them according to my system. I then apply my filter and work through the emails responding accordingly.
Do you have to send the same response regularly – why not create a template? Instead of typing out the same response time and time again, why not create email templates which you can use and plug in the necessary information.
Or you could create a structure or ideal timeline as to how your sales process will go and how you will respond. For example: Your (potential) customer will contact you, you will respond with an email about their query (email template x), you will respond to their request (email template y) and follow up after the sale/task (email z). This cuts down the time it takes to deal with customer queries but also creates a standard for customer service for your company. Win: Win
A useful method for cutting down the time you spend dealing with emails is to reduce the amount of emails received.
Have you signed up to a newsletter or mailing list? Do you actually READ the emails received or do they just sit in your inbox? If you have received two emails from the same sender and not opened them, chances are you aren’t going to open them at all. If so, unsubscribe and reduce the volume of emails received.
Merlin was more of a bin it and move on kind of man, whereas I like to read and file all my emails so I have the information at my fingertips. For example: I have many folders structuring my inbox and once I have dealt with an email, I file it accordingly.
If you are finding that you are spending too much time in your inbox, you have 1,000,000 emails in but can’t find the one you need, why not get the help of a virtual assistant? Getting help with your inbox is one of the toughest things to delegate as you might have personal emails mixed in with business but if you’re really struggling with your inbox you have two options: you can either filter personal emails to a personal account or just let you’re your VA deal with the emails warts and all.
The one thing that I can guarantee is that once you start working with a VA to help clear your inbox and deal with your emails you will have more time to spend on other activities. Your inbox will be checked at regular intervals, set responses will be sent and your email will be categorised and filed (using a system that works for you) so that you can hit the ground running when you open your inbox allowing you to deal with your emails quickly and efficiently.
If you’d like to find put more about my email management service or have any queries please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to catching you up next month.