It is said that email is the communication preference for majority of business professionals today and people spend a third of their workday on emails. That is almost 12 hours per week! This is why email is considered one area that tops the list of time-killers for many business owners. Because email is an ongoing form of communication, and we don’t have complete control over the incoming flow, we need to work on improving our productivity in how we receive, organize, reply to and even think about email. There are many proven and successful techniques that will help you to tame your inbox. Let’s take a look at some of my favourite email management tactics.
Turn off notification, set a time and batch process
Today you can check your emails on the go on your smartphone or tablet. Most of us are all too familiar with that ‘BEEP’ we keep hearing constantly and the unconscious habit that leads us to instantly check email messages regardless of where we are or whatever we are doing. This is a major productivity killer! If you are committed to increase your productivity then you need to start here. Turn off the notifications from all your email apps on your phone and tablet and even the desktop and web versions of your email application. I know this sound harsh and unrealistic, but trust me, this is the only way to get some sanity around email management.
Once this crucial step is taken, then next step is to set up dedicated times within your day to process your inbox. You can decide to do this 2 or 3 times a day at preferred times as per your unique need. My personal preference is to check emails 3 times a day. 1- first thing in the morning, 2- mid day 3- end of day. During these predefined time slots you need to focus only on your inbox and do batch processing to action, organize or archive the emails as per your guidelines (which we will discuss a bit later).
No inbox management process will work if this initial step is not implemented. So you MUST start here.
Combine multiple email accounts
I’m a big believer in keeping work and personal email separate but having to toggle between different email accounts isn’t conducive to staying organized. The best solution is to consolidate all your email accounts into one centralized inbox. Gmail allows you to do just this. Import all your email accounts into this single central gmail account and you will have a consolidated view of all your emails at once. Using folders and filtering rules your emails from multiple sources can be easily organized to save you time and improve productivity.
Follow the Open & Action Rule
Follow this simple rule to achieve inbox zero everyday. Most of the emails we receive daily are disposable. So by letting it sit on our inboxes for extended time causes unnecessary clutter and impacts productivity.
So when you open an email make sure you take an action on it immediately. Ideally the time you spend on each emails should be limited to 2 minutes! You could either (1) act on it by replying back or adding it to your to-do list, (2) mark it to be handled later (specially when it requires more time to address), (3) delegate it to someone who can action on it, (4) file the email for future reference (only if absolutely required) or (5) simply delete it. Taking one of these actions will remove that email from your inbox and thus allow you to achieve inbox zero.
Organize with Folder or Labels
Folder or labels are quite often mentioned as a way to organize your inbox. But, at present, with enhanced search capabilities, complex folder/label structures are seen more of a hassle. But the trick here is to ‘keep things simple’. While having 100+ folders or labels will not help with better email management, having a well thought out 5-10 folders or labels will go a long way to help with better email management. There is no one rule that fit everyone. So evaluate your current emails and determine which folder structure works well for you. A very basic examples would be to have seperate folders for Projects, Leads, Information, Personal.
Automate with Filters
Filters are rules which are applied on incoming emails and automatically move emails to some predefined destination (e.g. folder). Therefore filters allow for another level of organization on your inbox. For example, if you regularly get email updates from subscriptions, you can apply a filter to move these newsletter emails to a predefined email folder. So these subscription newsletter emails will bypass your inbox and will be moved directly to its defined folder. This leaves your inbox clutter free and that extra step of organizing emails to its right destination is already handled for you. You save valuable time and it impacts your productivity.
Clean inbox with Unsubscribe
Over the years everyone accumulates email subscriptions. You simply subscribe for one-off reasons and quickly forgets all about it. You start receiving the updates and as time goes by you find them to be annoying or useless. Make a conscious decision to remove yourself from unwanted subscriptions. Be strict about this. If you don’t find a particular sender useful or irrelevant, they have to go. Ensure that your inbox consists of only useful, relevant and important stuff. If you don’t, your efforts to organize your inbox will be similar to filling water in a leaky bowl. Use a tool like Unroll.me to declutter your inbox from useless subscriptions within minutes.
Use email templates
Don’t waste time typing every response. Situations may arise where you will have to write the same email responses repeatedly, say an answer to a particular customer query or a reply to guest post requests, etc. Many of these emails are very similar in nature and basically, ask the same question over and over again. Predefined email templates will make it easier for you to deal with such situations. It allows you to save common responses, which could be used as a template for future use. This saves you time and energy, and ensures consistency.
Outsource email management
Remember we mentioned that you would probably be spending 12 hours a week on email management? Now imagine having an extra 8 hours per week to spend on growing your business? You can easily achieve this by hiring a virtual assistant to do email management. A VA can do the initial inbox organization such as setting up a consolidated email inbox, setting up folders and filters and also do a cleanup on existing old emails. Once the initial setup is done, they can continue to monitor your emails on a daily basis and take action on any emails as per rules and guidelines mutually agreed on. This sort of an arrangement will leave you with maybe only a handful of emails to tackle on a daily basis. Allowing you time to focus on things thats matter most to you and your business.
All the above tactics when implemented well and consistently will help you to better manage your inbox. A little organization, persistence and commitment will help you to implement these practices and in turn see an increase in your productivity.