Are you swamped by your email? Do you have tons of messages coming in everyday, so much so that you’re beginning to become overwhelmed? Me too! Or maybe you’re slowly getting more and you’re looking for tips on managing your email better before things get out of control. Regardless of what situation you are in, here are a few tips from me – Zach – an email master, that should help you out!
Give me 2 minutes – read this article – and I promise you will save tens if not HUNDREDS OF HOURS over the next year(s).
I get around 100 – 200 emails per day, and send around 50 (in addition to any number of meetings and about a dozen phone calls). But managing all of this communication, particularly email is easy if you follow these tips for managing your email more efficiently:
1) Stay Organized
What does your inbox look like… go ahead, take a look, I’ll wait… is it overflowing with thousands of messages? Or is it nice and neat?
If it’s neat, move on, but if your “inbox” is where you keep EVERY message, you ARE going to have a problem. If not now, then pretty soon, your email will overwhelm you.
Start creating folders, sub-folders, or tags for your messages immediately. Go through that large list, create appropriate folders, and start dragging and dropping. I particularly LOVE outlook because folders can be created in seconds, and email can be quickly organized.
2) Use Your Inbox as a To Do List
Again, I love Outlook. Why do I love outlook so much (even MORE than gmail, which has a similar feature)? Well, as you may have noticed you can click on a message to flag it… when something comes into my inbox and I need to take action on it, particularly something important, I flag it, and move on.
I will deal with it later.
Everything in my inbox is an actionable item, everything else (stuff I’ve completed, people I don’t need to get back to, or newsletters) get filed immediately or automatically. The stuff in your inbox should ONLY BE STUFF YOU NEED TO DO WORK ON! And if there is ANYTHING that needs to be done in regards to the email, even a tiny-baby step at the end… it stays in the inbox until it is complete.
3) Automatic Filing
That last tip brings me to my next tip… filing automatically. No matter what software you’re using for your email, it has a feature to AUTOMATICALLY FILE MESSAGES. Here at Atilus, I get about 1000 automatic notifications a month because of some of the software we have (analytics, scheduled invoices, etc.). I don’t need to read them all (although I do need to keep copies), but because of the way the software works I must get them. Instead of manually filing them each month (taking probably about 30 minutes/total), I’ve instead created rules in outlook to automatically file them away.
4) Say NO to Email
“What, Zach… this article is ABOUT EMAIL… how can I say no to email!?”
Studies have shown that multitasking actually SLOWS YOUR ABILITY TO GET THINGS DONE. You can get much more done if you “chunk” (I know it’s a funny word – it makes me think of a large chipmunk). Joking aside you’re wasting tons of time keeping your outlook open and jumping back and forth between new emails and the actual work that gets interrupted. Sure, your response time might look amazing to your clients or customers, but that is MEANINGLESS if you don’t get stuff done!
So what do you do?! Only read email a few times a day. Outside of that… I turn it off and actually DO work. Spending a lot of time emailing (communicating) actually creates MORE WORK, which is great… but it actually NEEDS TO GET DONE! Writing emails however, although at times necessary, is not the core of what needs to be done. For example, I received a request this morning for a new possible job with information. I need to create a proposal. If I continued to spend all of my time emailing people, that proposal would not get generated.
What Should Your Email Schedule Look Like?
This works for me: 1st thing in the morning, mid-afternoon (around 1pm – 2pm) and then again in the evenings.
Other than that… I’m working on the things that need to get done at the company, or work for clients.
5) Manage Expectations
One of the big things I’ve learned in business, and in life over the last half decade is to manage people’s expectations. Be they friends, lovers, or clients, people have expectations of you – sometimes they are implied and not even directly communicated.
So you need to take control.
I remember reading about email response time expectations a few years ago (not sure where, or if the numbers are even that accurate), but apparently people expect a response to email in less than 15 minutes. That’s right, no matter where you are, what you’re doing, people want to get a response from you in 15 minutes. And is it any wonder? With smart phones and ubiquitous wireless access, you can have access to your email pretty much anywhere, anytime.
Recently I was one of those people that wanted a quick response:
I emailed one of our software providers a question. It took them 5 days to respond. I was shocked. Although I never expected customer service from this particular vendor (they provide hosted project management solutions) I didn’t expect such a delay. We’ve spent literally tens of thousands of dollars with them over the last 5 years! But, in truth, it WASN’T an important question, and just needed to be answered “whenever.”
Anyway, your customers are thinking the same way. And how do you deal with this? Be upfront about response times, and if you do receive an email, shoot a VERY quick one back letting them know when you’ll be able to answer or address their problem, question, or inquiry. It’s that simple. Hell – you can take a week or even months sometimes to address something, but just letting them know when will keep rapport.
CAUTION – be sure that you keep the message in your inbox (see tip #2) and DON’T forget what you promised.
If you follow these 5 tips for managing email, you should be able to save time and do business more efficiently over the coming years. As always, if you have any questions, or tips of your own, feel free to comment below. I’ll be happy to hear from you!