I see you waving your hand there. Drowning in your email. Don’t panic. I have some ideas that might help.
1. One minute rule
Can you reply or action the email within a minute? Yes? Do it and delete. If it’s going to take longer, then use a system to categorise the email.
2. Categorise your email
Most email systems have a variety ways you can categorise and manage your email. You can use folders, stars or coloured flags to manage the items in your inbox that require action. Within some systems you can set up rules or filters so that when certain words appear in the subject line, they are automatically filed within a particular folder. Details on how to this in Outlook are here and within Gmail here. It may take a moment to set up, but it will save you time in the long run.
3. Only check your email at certain times each day
There is no rule that says you have to check and respond to email immediately, but it’s an easy habit to get into. Set up certain times in the day to check your inbox and leave it at that. Turn off your notifications. If you feel queasy about doing this, see using your auto-response below.
4. Use your auto-response wisely
Feel like you are always responding to emails in the same way? Consider setting up an auto-response to all emails with relevant details like what you offer, how you can help your client, what days you work, when you check your email and when they can expect a reply (if the auto-response hasn’t answered their question already).
5. Use template emails
Lots of email queries can be answered in similar ways. It helps to have a template library available so that you aren’t constantly repeating yourself or trying to find the last email you sent that answered the same question. The easiest way to do this is to create signatures with the template text and insert them as you need. You can do this in Gmail like this.
6. Consolidate your inboxes
How many inboxes are you managing? Can you consolidate them by redirecting your email to one address? If that’s not possible can you use an app that brings your email into once place? If you have different gmail accounts, you can check them in one spot via the gmail app. If you have accounts spread over multiple providers, you could use an email consolidation app like inky (there are few on the market).
7. Is this the best way to communicate?
Before you start an email convo, think about whether email is the most effective method of communicating your message. Could it be more easily dealt with through a quick phone call? Does the involvement of several people mean that a Facebook chat might be more appropriate?
8. Reduce your points of contact
How many points of contact do you have? Between email, sms and the direct messaging available on pretty much every single social media channel, I reckon it’s quite a few. If you are feeling overwhelmed, reduce your points of contact and let people know what your preferred method is. Try to funnel it into one or two places. If someone contacts you outside those points of contact, let them know your preferred method, but don’t do so immediately unless it’s urgent or a fabulous opportunity.
9. Come to impolite agreement with those you converse with regularly
All those “Thanks for that” emails take up time at both the sender and receivers end. Sometimes it’s necessary but often it isn’t. If you regularly converse with someone, come to agreement that you are happy to forgo the “Hi. How are you?” and “Thanks so much” emails. You’d be surprised how much time this saves.
10. Don’t just delete junk.
How many times a day do you delete junk email? From the same people? Over and over again? There is an unsubscribe button at the bottom of those emails. Use it.
11. Think about your holiday strategy.
You know what panics me about going away? Coming back to an over-full inbox that I inevitable end up checking when I’m meant to be on leave.
I love the strategy that the Huffington Post office adopts. It goes something like this:
Hi, I am not in the office at the moment as I am on holidays. My inbox is not being monitored and all emails received while I am away are being automatically deleted. If you need assistance prior to [date], please contact [email]. Otherwise, please email me again when I am back in the office on [date].
Would you dare?
Hopefully you have been thrown a life raft or two. So get out of those deep email waters and start working on something more fabulous!