If you’re like me, you’ve read numerous tips on how to tame the beast. I’ve tried a few and they seem to work for a while, but eventually, the beast rises again. I’ve tried the Do, Defer, Delegate, or Delete method. If it takes less than 2 minutes, do it. If not, defer until you can or delegate it. Otherwise, delete it. The problem with this method was that most of my emails should only take 2 minutes -- 60 emails at 2 minutes is still two hours! Another method I tried was Yesterbox but still took most of the day, as Tony Hsieh said it would.
Basically, every method I’ve tried still requires numerous hours per day to handle. Now that’s a big beast. Ain’t nobody got time for that! So, what do we do? Try to stay afloat? Constantly apologize for the delay in response? Ignore our families while we attend to email at all hours? Give up and let our inbox be filled to the thousands?
The problem with most tips is they address how to handle your inbox as it exists today. What about changing the way your inbox exists? Instead of trying to manage just email, how about we shift the problem to ask, “What is the best way to manage information flow in my business?” Basically, what information can I send or receive outside of email?
As a simple example, small business owners may send contracts to their new clients via email. You have to customize the template to that client, convert to PDF, draft an email and attach the PDF, and send. Now you have to wait for them to sign and send back, then download and save it somewhere (or just leave it in your inbox). That’s a lot of steps and at least 2 emails. Because they probably are caught up in the beast of email, they may not even see yours! So, do you follow up? How often? Do you assume they actually weren’t interested in your services? All because of the beast called email!
But could this be handled outside of email? Is it absolutely necessary to send through email? Instead, you could create a template in a document signing software (such as Docusign or HelloSign) and now when you have a new client, a few simple clicks send the contract and no email is involved on your end! Not only do you have fewer emails but you also get new clients started faster—bonus!
Here are 3 steps to tame the beast (also known as email) by shifting the question to how to manage information flow.
- Reduce the number of emails you receive. What are the common emails you receive? Are they prospective clients wanting to schedule a call or get more information? Are they clients asking for routine actions such as scheduling a call or sending documents? Are they clients requesting major work such as a business owner asking their web designer for edits to their website? Think about ways to reduce these common emails. Some examples include:
- Autoresponders that contain the information needed to complete the common task. For instance, it could say something like: if you’re writing to schedule a call, please click here for access to my calendar. Indeed, you could email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to see my autoresponder. A CPA might say, “If you’re needing your tax returns from a previous year, please log in to your account here to access.” A web designer or landscape maintainer may say, “To submit service requests, please click here to start a ticket.” Or keep it simple and have the autoresponder explain how you work: “Hello. In order to be more productive, I check email on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays between 10 and 11 am and will respond during that time. If it’s urgent, please call my assistant at….”
- Create ways for clients to submit information you need or to make requests. For example, a career coach needs a job description and your current resume to create a resume for the job you’re going for. They could create a form (using tools like Wufoo or Jotform) for job seekers to upload this information easily. A web designer or landscape maintainer could use a ticketing system like Freshdesk for clients to submit service requests. A marketing consultant could use Slack channels for clients requesting specific information to be posted to their social media. An attorney or CPA could use a document storage system (Dropbox or SmartVault) for clients to upload their documents.
2. Set priorities around the emails you do receive, how they should be handled, and
by whom. Generally, emails come from four types of senders:
- Support: contractors, subcontractors, employees, vendors, etc.
- Existing or previous clients
- Prospective clients and referral sources
- Everything else
Determine in what order emails from these senders should be handled ( i.e., prospective clients first, existing clients second, support third, everything else last). Next, determine who should handle what. If you are the primary sales person, then you handle all prospective clients. Or maybe your Virtual Assistant (VA) handles getting the call scheduled but you take the call. Your VA or employee could handle certain requests from existing clients. For instance, a CPA or financial planner might have their VA handle scheduling appointments or “easy” requests such as sending previous tax returns. For an HR consultant, an employee may handle HR tasks up to their level of experience or all the tasks associated with particular clients. A VA should be handling everything else or you can when you have time—reading E-newsletters, for example.
3. Now that you’ve reduced the number of emails you receive and have outlined who
should handle what types of emails, you are ready to organize the emails you do
- You can change the settings in your email to prioritize for you. Check out Episode 3 of All Systems Go! to see how to change your settings if you use Gmail. You can also use filters. Filters “filter” specific types of email, such as e-newsletters into a folder that you open when you have the time. You can use a VA to monitor and organize your email in a manner that works for you (e.g., placing email into folders based on the 4 types of senders or color coding them).
- You can create a private email for existing clients and a public one for everyone else. The public one can be monitored by your team. You can respond more quickly to your private email.
- You can use a #TechTool like Freshdesk to assign emails to your team so they’re not waiting for you to forward them.
Now all that is left is email that only you can address. Maybe you don’t want to face the beast all at once. That is totally fine. I started with an autoresponder to schedule calls. A few months later, I created a form for prospective clients to trigger us getting started with the search for their Freedom Maker (I even had the notification set to text me rather than email!). Then I created a Docusign account so contracts never get sent through email. Recently, I created a form for Freedom Makers to submit their hours for payment. Now I’ve created a form for clients to add more hours to their balance. This progression has occurred over the last two years. Who knows what I’ll create next. In the meantime, I continue to review and respond to email until I notice a type that I dread and then I figure out a way to reduce it. It may take me a few hours to a few months to find a way, but once I do, I count it as a victory against the beast. Even better, I don’t feel guilty when I don’t get to email every day. Life is too short for that!