Do you remember when email began?
Instantly being able to send messages and documents literally changed the world, making it quicker than ever to communicate. Great in so many ways, however dealing with emails has become one of the biggest time users for anyone running a business. With inboxes filling up so quickly, it can be difficult and stressful to manage when there are so many other things you’d rather be doing. But, it needn’t be all doom and gloom. By following a few simple rules, you can cut down the amount of time you spend drowning in mail, so you can focus on being the creative force behind your business.
Make a date with your emails
All too often its easy to start the day with a vague idea of what you want to achieve, meaning you easily get distracted by administrative tasks or procrastination. Planning your day into chunks of time with aims can help keep you focused and save you time in the long run. Try blocking time to spend on email rather than logging in every 5 minutes. You’ll find the time you spend is far more productive.
If you’re really struggling and can’t help looking at your email, why not try turning off your network and phone for an hour. Unless instant messaging is absolutely essential for your work (which for most people it really isn’t) then it’s worth a try. Seriously, the world is not going to end.
Turn your inbox into a slick operation
How you deal with an email when you first see it can be a huge factor in how much time it sponges up from your precious day. Setting up a simple system to manage your emails will help keep you in control and on top of your workload. The below is a tried and tested method and is very effective for simplifying your inbox and saving you time.
When you open your inbox and read a new email do one of the following:
Deal with it now. If its literally just a case of sending a quick sentence in reply, accepting an appointment or saving a document to your folders, do it there and then. Letting it hang over you will only mean you’ll waste time returning to that same email to re-read. Once dealt with, you can then transfer the email to an appropriate ‘completed tasks’ folder or simply press delete.
Move larger tasks into a pending file. For emails that need more thought or action, move them into a file called ‘pending’. You then need to block times in your calendar to deal specifically with these tasks.
Following the above rules will ensure that when you open your inbox, only unread emails will be seen immediately. Previously read emails should be nicely filed away having either been dealt with or waiting for further action.
Get the tools to do the filtering
If you have more than one email address or receive a particularly high volume of emails, setting up email filtering can be hugely helpful. Filtering tools allow you to set criteria to ensure that certain emails bypass your inbox and go straight into specific folders. For example, I personally have filters that automatically move any newsletters directly into a separate folder. This ensures that important client mail doesn’t get lost amongst the ‘news’ and I can then read the newsletters when I have a spare 5 minutes.
Cut down the spam and keep things tidy
Always choose wisely who receives your email address or you may end up with tons of spam heading your way. If a newsletter is not what you thought it would be then unsubscribe (any decent newsletter should have a nice and easy unsubscribe button).
If spam has managed to worm its way into your main inbox, then always label it as spam and help cut down the risk of it happening again. Similarly if you’ve got emails coming in that don’t need any action and are not of any use to you then hit that delete button. Leaving useless emails floating around your system will just be irritating when you are trying to find important mail. Keep it all nice and tidy and it will pay off later.
Turn off your notifications
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest…the list is endless. They are all important tools and essential for business. They also all have their own individual in-boxes. Do you really need to receive an email every time someone mentions you on Twitter? Generally the answer is no. Notifications from social media can clutter up your inbox and serve as a huge distraction from the more important mail. Login to your settings and make sure your notifications are switched off. If you are a regular user of social media, the tools themselves will tell you everything you need to know.
Give your customers the information they want
If youre finding that you get a lot of the same queries coming your way, then its time to start supplying that information straight up through your website. If there are lots of details that you don’t know where to put, a simple FAQ sheet on your website will help you supply the key information that your customers and clients need and will help save you the headache of replying to the same questions over and over.
Producing a selection of template emails for regular queries can also be handy. Just remember to always personalise your template each time you use it and ensure you are actually answering the question being asked of you. The last thing you want to be doing is sounding like a robot.
Remind yourself what life was like pre-email
As email is so commonly used now, it’s often easy to forget that it hasn’t actually been around that long. So, what did we do before email?
Well, we usually did one of the following:
- Picked up the phone
- Spoke to someone face to face
- Sent documents using fax machines
- Messaged people using pagers
- Wrote letters to people and posted them
Ah, the days of fax machines and pagers ok, so technology has definitely moved on. But the key point here is that people used to actually speak to each other a lot more.
Today, picking up the phone or arranging face-to-face meetings are still valid forms of communication, yet they often get forgotten about. Next time you go to write an email take a moment to consider whether picking up the phone might be a better alternative. You want to cut down your emails, right? Well, a good start would be to send less. Pretty simple really!
Shout for help!
As your business grows, so will the workload and at times it will be impossible for you to cope with all the many jobs that need to be done you are only one person after all. Getting a second pair of hands to share the work will give you relief from the pressure of getting everything done and allow you to focus your attentions on the parts of your business that you really love and are best at. Help with emails can be done by either sharing your current email account with a second person or by setting up a second email address for the business purely for administrative tasks.
Dont forget you
Ultimately there is only one person who is truly going to give you the freedom and time you crave and that’s you. Give yourself a break, set times to go and spend with friends and family, get some help when you need it and remember that you are the most important person in your business. Stressing in front of the computer for hours is often unproductive and unhealthy – going out for a 10 minute walk or treating yourself to a coffee can do wonders. You’ll come back to the task with a clear mind, a new found energy and a determination to make the most of the time you have left of the day.