It’s a new day. Without doubt this is going to be a positive and productive day. Then it hits you. You look at your phone and see the little flashing light. You have mail. And you know it’s going to be lots and lots and lots of mail. Suddenly your mood crashes and the brightness of the day seems irrelevant. Before you do anything, you are going to have to wade through your emails.
So how do you stop yourself from getting this sinking feeling every single day and how can you turn dealing with your email into a positive and productive experience?
When You Are Drowning In Email The First Thing To Do Is To Manage The Flow
There is no other way to deal with email, you are going to need a proper system in place to confront it. A consistent, ruthlessly applied system. If you don’t have a system and stick to it then you are never going to successfully get on top of your email problem. Your system should have a simple goal. At the end of each day your inbox will be completely empty and everything essential has been dealt with. How you set up your email filtering system is entirely up to you, but let’s outline a generally successful structure for you right now.
Create a folder. It can be called anything you want. In this folder you are going to store all the emails that need attention, but that do not need to be, or cannot be replied to, or dealt with, that day.
An alternative to creating a folder is to make use of colour highlighting options in your email system. However, it does not feel as satisfying to see lots of coloured emails as it feels to see your inbox with less emails in it.
Create an archive folder. This is where you are going to move anything that you think will be useful to keep, but that does not require a reply.
This is the filtering stage. Without stopping, go through your entire inbox. If you don’t need it, then delete it. Do this liberally. If you need to follow-up on it later, move it to the action folder. If it is useful but you don’t need to take any action, archive it.
Deal with your email. Now your inbox only contains things that need a response right now. Deal with these as quickly as possible, trying to spend less than one minute per email.
After taking these steps, all you will have left in your inbox are the emails that need to be dealt with before the end of the day. All you need to do then is to go back into your inbox halfway through the day, go through the process again and deal with those remaining emails before you stop for the day. Also you will need to go into your actions folder once per day and work through those emails as quickly as possible.
It’s certainly not a complex system. The important point here is to have a systematic approach to dealing with your emails that achieves two aims:
1. Deals with your entire inbox in one go, leaving you a clear view of exactly what needs to be done right now.
2. Gives you a positive feeling at the end of every single day by achieving an empty inbox.
Dealing with the emails that arrive in a ruthless, consistent fashion is great. But unless you slow the flow of email you will continue to feel like you are drowning. Just like the hideous torture of waterboarding, although you are never actually going to drown, the feeling that you might have can be emotionally detrimental.
So the next step is to take some simple actions that will stem the flow of email forever.
1. Deal with subscriptions
Take the bold step of unsubscribing from every single mailing list you are currently on. Don’t stop and think that you may want to read something at some stage, just unsubscribe from the lot. I bet you won’t miss any of it.
And if you do, then simply create a separate webmail account and use that to subscribe to mailing lists. Then when you do get spare time you can go into that account and flick through it to your heart’s content.
By doing this, you will also avoid the temptation to get distracted by the latest great thing that someone is telling you!
2. Send shorter emails
You don’t want to appear rude, but you should deal with your emails in as few words as possible. So cut corners and get straight to the point. This will save you and the person reading time.
3. Send less emails
Do you really need to reply to this email? Take a look through all the replies you have sent in the past week. How many of those were actually just acknowledgement’s or confirmations? So don’t bother sending that sort of response again. In 90% of cases the person sending it doesn’t require or expect a response anyway.
4. Utilise your email footer
Most people don’t even bother to have anything at the bottom of their sent emails by default, other than perhaps a disclaimer policy.
First of all make sure you have a proper signature there. This will stop you from being one of those people who types something like “Regards, John” 50 times a week.
Secondly, create an email policy and put it ther which leads me to the next point…
5. Have a proper email policy
By setting-up an email policy, you can guide people into sending you better emails, or not sending them at all. This policy should be a few lines and be aimed at reducing the number of emails you get.
For example, if you don’t deal with a certain aspect of your business, perhaps your personal assistant does, then it can be tedious to endlessly forward emails to them, or respond and do their job for them.
So initially put your email policy in the footer of your emails. Then set-up an autoresponder containing that policy. In the autoresponder state that if the email pertains to certain topics people should forward the email they have just sent onto the personal assistant. Say that due to the volume of emails you receive you cannot respond personally so if they need a response they need to take action and forward it. Then you can simply delete the emails as they come in.
6. Post a frequently asked questions page on your website
It should be obvious, if you are getting the same email questions time and time again. If you are, then it makes sense to take 20 minutes to create a webpage containing answers and then include that in the email policy you have placed in the footer and in the autoresponder.
You are going to profit wildly from stopping yourself from drowning in email by gaining the most precious commodity of all. If I gave you an extra hour every day you would be delighted. Think what you could do with an extra hour per day, seven hours each week. That is a lot of time to deal with things in your business that will make you money, rather than trying to stick your fingers in the dike to stop the email flood.
The way you filter your emails will be very personal to you. You could try starting with the system I have outlined here, and then adapt it depending on the volume and type of emails you receive. The key point is to commit yourself now to setting up a mental system to ruthlessly deal with your email at the start of every day.
Once you have done this, you can decide how many times after that you want to go into your email account each day. I would suggest a second time only, just after lunch. Anything that arrives in the afternoon can be dealt with the next morning. There is no harm in scanning your inbox before you finish for the day just to make sure nothing crucial arrives late.
But as you may have already guessed, even more important than setting up a personal system is taking active steps now to stop future emails from arriving at all. A bit of time spent now removing emails from ever arriving and educating people on the type of emails you wish to receive, and telling them what to do in all the obvious cases, can transform your position and gain you valuable time each day.
There is no magic formula for dealing with email, but once you have a system and have set up your own gatekeeper, then giving yourself more time to make money can be a reality.
Or Perhaps There Is A Magic Formula….
One way you can cut out 90% of your email time is to hire a personal assistant (PA). These can be hired from outsourcing sites for a reasonable hourly rate. You can then train them by giving them access to your business email and then using a tool such as Skype to go through your email inbox every day for a week. After that, they can log into your email account every morning and only forward emails on to you that are absolutely vital for you to personally deal with.
So the only additional step you will need to take is to set up a different mailbox. If you receive personal emails, then it’s obviously advisable to steer them into your new email account rather than allowing your personal assistant to read them. Yes this will cost money, but a freelance personal assistant will potentially cost a fraction of the money you can make by freeing up several hours per day in some cases.
I thought I would throw this idea into the mix at the very end to give you food for thought. Dealing with your inbox does not have to be a job you personally do. As long as you are confident you are dealing with the emails you NEED to deal with, why do you have to go through them all by yourself?