Ask The Entrepreneurs is a regular series where members of those involved in the Young Entrepreneur Council are asked a single question that aims to help Lifehack readers level up their own lives, whether in a area of management, communication, business or life in general.
Here’s the question posed in this edition of Ask The Entrepreneurs:
What’s your number-one tip for keeping email communication manageable in your business?
1. Keep Customers Separate
Aggregate all of your customer-related requests into one software system such as ZenDesk or FuseDesk. Keeping all of this information in one place allows the owner to get a bird’s eye view of all requests and answers, as well as keeping a large category of emails out of individual inboxes.
2. Just Pick Up the Phone!
When email conversions and discussions between team members start flying back and forth on the same topic, usually the best thing to do is to switch the medium to phone. It’s infinitely faster than having a lengthy debate over email, which can often evolve into a thread of 20, 30 or 40 messages.
3. Allowing Instant Messages
No more lengthy emails that never get to the point. Instead, my team makes sure we’re always available via IM so we can have conversations about what’s on our mind and get instant feedback. We’ve found this to be more efficient than letting emails sit in our inbox for hours or days — or get lost forever.
4. Let Someone In
You need to figure out what emails that YOU must respond to, versus emails that must be responded to. Who can you delegate other emails to? Create a new email address or have them login to your email to answer some. Also, do these emails even need to come in, or can you create an FAQ on your site?
5. Spontaneous Video Chats
Instead of allowing threads of never-ending emails, encourage the use of Skype to chat and call team members whenever needed. Email can get out of hand sometimes so it’s important to resort to direct communication to get things done.
6. Now, Not Later
I have found that when I let my emails pile up, not only does it take me more time to go through them later on, but it also psychologically creates a mental block when I see more than I can handle at one time. And instead of working through them, I just continue to leave them unread and unopened. I highly recommend keeping on top of them at all times, responding and marking down what I need to do.
7. Start Batching
I learned this trick while reading “The 4-Hour Workweek” a few years ago. Try to only answer emails two to three times per day– for me, it’s 9 a.m., 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. This makes me more productive in other parts of the day because I am not being constantly interrupted by incoming messages.
8. Scrape the Important Stuff
Move your actionable items and important data off of email and in it’s own place. Utilize a business class email that will allow you to easily add contacts, create reminders, set appointments, and store documents while also being able to easily share those items with the rest of your team.
9. Labels, Filters, Stars
If you’re using Gmail, make the most of the various organizational tools at your disposal to help tame your inbox. Filters automatically routes emails and sorts your inbox before you even open it. Labels are a good for grouping together similar messages and making them easy to find later. Stars help make your inbox actionable by highlighting urgent messages and setting priorities.
10. Throw the Boomerang
Stop using your inbox as a ToDo list and a WaitingOn list. The awesome Gmail plugin called Boomerang allows you to send emails, with reminders for that email to boomerang back after a set period if it goes unanswered. A priceless productivity tool for letting go.
11. Keep Clients at the ‘Camp’
We route all client emails via Basecamp, which allows the right person on the team to reply and run with it. It also keeps everything organized per project, so we don’t have to scratch our head wondering where that piece of communication was.
12. Minimize the Overload
We’re not fans of having long email chains, especially internally — we use intranets, chat rooms (with recorded history) and deliberately short face-to-face meetings to circumvent long email exchanges. But there’s only so much you can do to minimize email with outside parties, so we use customer service forums to avoid repetitive email inquiries.
13. Don’t Forget to FollowUp.cc
Without question, Followup.cc is the best way to take control of your inbox. With Followup.cc, you can send messages away to return at a pre-specified time. This has enabled me to send myself reminders, and also remind myself to ping people after an appropriate window of time. Most significantly, it takes all not-so-urgent email out of my inbox so I can focus on what’s most important.
14. Break the Chain!
Email is part of your business culture! Encourage picking up the phone, talking in person, texting and IM-ing. By spending less time writing and sending emails, you will help other people to spend less time reading them, and if everyone uses emails that wisely in your organization, you’ll have less emails and more real communication.
(Featured photo credit: Overflowing Inbox via Shutterstock)