A question for you: How many emails are currently in your inbox? Go on, be honest… 20, 40, 60, 100+
A never-ending inbox of emails is the cause for long working hours, stressed out entrepreneurs and procrastination. It is also the reason why so many people feel that they are so ‘busy’ all the time when in actual fact they are busy on the wrong things. A full and un-manageable inbox can distract you from what you know you really should be doing. I now only work 30 hours per week and most of that time I spend out of the office, I thought it would be useful to share my 10 top tips to help you manage your inbox & have an inbox of under 20 emails for most of the time.
Tip 1 – Still using Outlook? Stop! Get rid of it
The quicker you move to a cloud based solutions such as ‘Google Apps for Business’ the better. My whole business changed for the better and we gained a wealth of time back for myself and the whole team. For minimal cost, you can have your whole history of Outlook emails and all future emails on Google Apps. No more folders or searching for hours to find emails. It really is worth a look. No matter where you are in the world, Sean can set this up for you remotely.
Tip 2 – Take off any alerts visual or audio that tell you ‘You’ve Got Mail!’
We simply can’t resist the temptation to see who or what is in the email, so despite being in the middle of something really important we can’t resist the temptation to jump across to the inbox. This simply creates a distraction and a loss of focus. I recommend that you turn off any pings or notifications that you’ve got a new email because your inbox is controlling you. The quicker you get control of your inbox back, the more productive you will become.
Tip 3 – Read emails in batches, set a diary appointment for ‘Email Response’
Decide what two times of the day suits you best to read and respond to your emails. Now make an appointment in your diary and block out this time. It might be 9-10am and then 3-4pm. This may not be possible every day, but gain some consistency around when you check in to your mails. The rest of the day, don’t even have your inbox open. If it’s that urgent, they will call you! What email really can’t wait just a few hours? The problem is that you expect people to respond straight away and therefore you put yourself under massive pressure to respond straight away also. By getting some structure around your day you will find you are much more productive in between these two ‘check-in’ times.
Tip 4 – Four Choices – Delegate, Delete, Respond or File
To keep your inbox to a manageable less than 20, you should never read the same email more than once. Decide what to do with it there and then otherwise you will get bogged down. Once you have read an email, your options are:
– Delegate it – forward on for someone else to deal with
– Delete it
– Write back – most responses will only take 2 mins and these are the ones that can pile up
– File it away – use folders in Outlook or labels in Google Apps to manage the emails
I treat my inbox as my to-do list, the only things left in there are the ones I need to take action on, then I use my coloured labels in Google Apps to help me visually see what the priority emails are and against which part of my business. Everything else is gone from the inbox as quickly as possible. Your aim is to get it to under 20!
Tip 5 – Use Rules and Organise Your Emails
If you regularly receive newsletters and updates from sources that you have subscribed to, then you have a number of ways to stop these from clogging up your inbox. You can un-subscribe to those that you never read. The ones you do want to read, but are not priority, you can set up rules in both Outlook and Google Apps, where the email actually skips your inbox and goes directly into a folder for you to review in your own time.
Tip 6 – Use the AwayFind App to still be alerted about urgent emails
If you are worried about only being on emails a couple of times a day, this App will help you to stay on top of urgent incoming mails. You can tell the App who your important people are and it can also sync with your calendar so it knows who you are meeting with in the coming days, so if an urgent email comes in, relating to an important client or a meeting you have coming up you no longer have to be in your inbox to know about it. You can get a text or other form of notification.
Tip 7 – If you want to receive less emails, send less emails
It sounds obvious, but the reason many people receive lots of emails is because they spend so much time sending them out! If you reduce your output, it will have an impact on how many emails you receive. Try picking up the phone for a change! Especially internally. If you have a team or colleagues, then how about getting up off your chair and walking over to their desk!! Email can often be the easy opt-out, try using other forms of communication and watch your inbox reduce.
Tip 8 – Use your ‘Out of Office’ Auto-responder to manage expectations
When you are on holiday, you probably use an ‘Out of Office’ response to tell people you are away. When you come back you are faced with a mountain of emails and you feel very overwhelmed, and then because people know you are back, more and more emails keep coming! Next time you go away, put your out of office on 1 day earlier than your planned trip, and leave it on for 2 days longer that your anticipated return. This will give you time to breathe and catch up! Also why not continue to use the responder for your first week back. Mine normally says: “Thanks for your email. I have been out of the office for 2 weeks, so it may take me longer than normal to respond to emails come in during week commencing [Date]. I will get back to you as soon as I can, and if you have a very urgent enquiry please contact my office on [Number]. Thanks for your patience and understanding. You are simply managing expectations and you are not under pressure.
Tip 9 – Schedule Meetings in a more effective way
Use a free tool such as Tungle.me to schedule your meetings. Quite often your inbox can fill up with to-ing and fro-ing on simple diary arrangements. Tungle.me links with my Google Calendar and many other calendar types including Outlook, using your real-time availability to help people schedule appointments with you. You set up an account and use their system to invite people to meet with you, on your time. You select the 3 dates you are available and the other party can see your selection and choose what suits at their end. No more pointless back and forth emails on meeting arrangements.
Tip 10 – Use a Bridging Email where relevant
If you know that an email you have received is going to take longer than the time you have available today or even this week, send a short email to acknowledge that you have received the email. Advise the person when the earliest time you will be able to come back to them with an answer will be. They will appreciate that you have taken the time to respond, and usually the timeframe you suggest will be acceptable. Now you have time to focus on your priorities, and you have not offended anyone, again you have space to breathe.
So this I hope you found useful. It can be a challenge to stay on top of your inbox as well as everything else you have to do, if you have any other tips, please share them with me and the many readers of this blog in the comments. So your new goal is to stay under 20 emails and if today, you feel that is unrealistic, then at least go for half of what your current inbox total is. Thanks for reading.