How many hours every week do you spend on email? Here’s a challenge for you: Starting next week, take note of all the time you spend checking email. Write it down in a notebook or use a time-tracking app like Chrometa. You’ll probably be shocked at how quickly the hours add up. What else could you do with all that extra time? However, email is crucial to running your business, so how can you cut back? The following steps go beyond the basics, showing you how to create systems to get organized and keep your inbox in check. What would you do with a few extra hours every week? Here’s how you can find out.
Step 1: Reduce Incoming Emails
Take a look at what typically comes into your inbox. If you’re subscribed to more than 5 email newsletters, that’s probably too many. Try a tool like Unroll.me to manage and reduce your subscriptions. Be ruthless about unsubscribing to all but the most useful newsletters. Are most of your emails from clients? If you have a service-based business, client emails often take up a huge portion of time. If you offer a service, consider reducing the amount of clients you deal with. It’s better to have two clients who each pay $250 than to have 5 clients who each pay $100 because of the overhead time for each client. Consider raising your prices and reducing the amount of customers you need to email. If you find yourself answering similar emails over and over again, publish a FAQ on your website to handle the most frequent questions. Be sure to link to your FAQ from your contact page, and encourage visitors to read it before contacting you. If you can’t reduce the amount of emails, at least you can schedule them better. Try Inbox Pause for Gmail or Boomerang, which allow you to pause your email delivery and receive it in batches.
Step 2: Manage Expectations
Checking email constantly throughout the day has a huge impact on your productivity. Multitasking can reduce your productivity by 40% and even lower your IQ by up to 10 points according to scientific studies. Reduced work quality can hurt your client relationships more than a slightly delayed email response. What if your customers are used to you answering their emails immediately? Fast responses to email inquiries might be a big selling point for your business. But you can be responsive without checking email compulsively throughout the day. You just need to manage your customers’ expectations and train them to your new schedule. What they consider an “emergency” often isn’t. First, set a schedule for yourself. You might decide to only check email 2-3 times a day, or only in the mornings. Next, you’ll need to let your clients know about your new policies, and how long it will generally take you to respond to emails. You can train your customers to expect your new schedule by:
- Publishing your policies on your website. On your contact or support page, let them know how long they can expect to wait for a response.
- Sharing a welcome packet with new clients. In your welcome packet, outline your communications policies: how they should contact you, and when you’ll respond.
- Consider setting up an email auto response that lets your contacts know when you’ll respond to their email.
- Never send or respond to emails during off hours (like evenings and weekends). This gives the impression of 24/7 availability. Instead, you can schedule your email to go out in the morning using a tool like Boomerang or Right Inbox.
For existing clients, let them know personally that you’re updating your policies. Spin it as a benefit to them:
Dear [client], [Personalized greeting] I’m getting in touch to let you know about my new email policy. As my business grows, my priority is to make sure I continue to provide you with quality service. In order to keep doing so, I’m updating my communication policy. Going forward, I will be checking my email [at these times]. I will answer your emails within [response time]. [Optional:] If your message is urgent, you can use the word “Urgent” in your email subject line and it will alert me immediately. This new policy will enable me to give 100% focus when working on your projects, without being distracted by emails throughout the day. Thank you for your business. Let me know if you have any questions about this new policy.
Customers will appreciate your professionalism and straightforwardness, and will soon grow used to your new response times.
Step 3: Organize and Automate
When your inbox is full of all kinds of emails, from client communications to newsletters to order confirmations, it’s tough to wade through it all. It can be overwhelming, and it also leads you to focus more on irrelevant emails to the detriment of more important ones. Gmail’s tabbed inbox does help with this, but you can organize it even more using labels and filters. For example, you might get both personal emails from friends and family, and emails from your business mixed up in your Primary tab. If you want to automatically separate out your business emails so you can prioritize those, you can easily set up a filter to have them all labeled under “Business” so you can easily sort them. Just use the search field to find the emails you want to label, and click the link at the bottom that says “Create a filter with this search”: Then click the “Apply the label” option, and select the label you’d like to use: Another tool you can try is SaneBox, which automatically detects which emails are important to you, and clears the rest out of your inbox for later.
Step 4: Escape the Inbox
Do you use your email inbox as a to-do list? This isn’t the most efficient or scalable system: Email wasn’t designed to be a to-do list. You want to be able to focus on tasks to be completed without being distracted by personal emails. Instead, try using tools made for to-do lists, like Asana, Trello, or Todoist. Asana is a project management app that’s free and simple to use. You can easily turn any email into a task by forwarding it to Asana. If you can get your clients to use Trello instead of email, it’s much easier to keep organized and keep communications and files all in the same place – no more hunting through your inbox for that specific message or file. Instead of keeping an email in your inbox as a reminder, you can schedule it to come back to your inbox at a certain time, using a tool like Boomerang or Yesware.
Step 5: Set Up Alerts
You don’t have to constantly check your email just to see if you got that one important message or file. Instead, set up specific alerts using Gmail/Android filtering and labels (or set up a text alert using IFTTT). If you use Gmail and an Android phone, you can set up your phone to only notify you about certain emails:
- First, create a filter (as shown above) to automatically label the email you’re waiting for. You can do this by sender, keyword, whether the email has an attachment, etc. You can call your label “Notification,” “Urgent,” etc.
- From your phone, open the Gmail app and navigate to Settings, and select your email account.
- Make sure the “Notifications” checkbox is checked.
- Scroll down and select “Manage labels.”
- Select your new label.
- Sync your messages and turn on notifications for that label.
- Go back and make sure notifications for other labels are not synced, so you won’t receive notifications for them.
That’s it! Now you’ll only receive notifications when you get new emails that match your filter.
Step 6: Don’t Feel Obligated to Answer Everyone
Just because someone emails you doesn’t mean you’re obligated to respond. This might sound cold, but if you gain any kind of success online, people will start emailing you and asking for your time. You might want to answer everyone, if only to apologize and explain why you can’t help them. But remember: as a business owner, time is your most precious resource. Don’t let yourself feel obligated to everyone that emails you. You don’t owe everyone an in-depth response. “No” is a complete sentence.
Step 7: Ask for Help
If after all these steps you’re still spending a ton of time on email, you should consider getting help so you can focus on running your business. There are virtual assistants that specialize in answering email. You can find out how to hire a VA by checking out Gina Badalaty’s recent post on Make Your Blog More Profitable by Hiring Help. Email can be a huge time-suck, but it doesn’t have to be! Whether you’re doing it on your own or hiring help, wrangling your inbox into shape can be a time-consuming project at first. But once your systems are in place, it’ll save you a ton of time – which you can reinvest in running your business.