Email is fast becoming the number one enemy when it comes to being productive. I know because I have been there too. I have spent much time trying to master a method that deals with my emails in the fastest and most efficient way. Make no mistake, it is a very useful tool that we all need, but in many ways it is counterproductive.
How many of you start your day by switching on your computer, opening your emails and spending the next few hours stuck there feeling overwhelmed by this endless flow of emails coming at you, not to mention the ones left over from yesterday, and the day before, and the week before?
Have you ever analysed what all these emails are about? When you do, you will see that very few of them are directly related to you doing business. There are bank notifications and statements, emails trying to sell us things, emails from experts who we have signed up to because we are interested in something they have offered us for free, people who want to connect with us, Facebook notifications, those lovely little emails that circulate with feel good things, spam and junk mails that make no sense whatsoever, information about your neighborhood, kids school emails, other informative emails AND maybe an email or two where a client is inquiring about your product or service because they want to do business with you.
So how do we deal with them in a way that they are not swallowing up time which could be spent doing things that actually make us money? It is not like Facebook where we can just decide one day that we no longer want to be part of it, there is information that we actually do need in our emails. Here is my system that has worked really well for me:
STEP 1 – Become selective about what you receive
The first step is to become really selective about what you need and what you no longer need to receive. Go through all you emails and choose who you can unsubscribe from. As business owners we are all trying our best to get our goods and services out there and email is very much part of that. I am reading more and more where people are advising that one needs prospective clients to see something at least 6 times before they buy and one should send out an email daily in order to make this sale. So we see an article that interests us and in order to get what is on offer for “free”, we need to sign up to a mailing list. Then the countless emails start, one after another. Because it is a topic that we are interested in or need to learn more about, it catches our attention every time we see another email come in, taking our attention off whatever we are doing at the time. When you have the information that you initially needed, unless you are planning to buy something or you actually read the newsletters, just hit unsubscribe. When you need that course or information, you can Google it again. If it is someone that resonates with you and you want to remember their name, have a place in your diary or journal where you keep names and websites of interest and you can rather refer to that when the time is right.
STEP 2 – Create sub folders
Make folders that make sense, so that when you are looking for an email, you know exactly where to find it, without wasting time. Of course there is also a search function that works brilliantly if you have key words or the email address. I have each year of my business as a folder and under each year I have sub folders like “Sales” and under that I have sub folders like “Retail, Agents, Direct Sales, etc.” I also have a “Personal” folder with sub folders for each of my kids, my mom and so on. My rule is that I don’t file an email in a folder until I have dealt with it. Once it goes into a folder, it is forgotten and is only there to refer back to if you need that information. If there is a string of emails about one topic, I check to make sure the last email contains all the previous info and keep deleting the previous ones. Do housekeeping on these folders from time to time as they too can become overwhelming.
STEP 3 – Set up categories
In Outlook you have a function where you can set up categories – there are 6 different colours that you can use and you are able to edit the category heading. For example, I have mine set up as follows: Personal, Bank, Business, Waiting For Reply, Courses or to read, Sales. Anything that does not fit into any of these categories stays in the general section until I have dealt with them. When you go through your emails, allocate them into their categories. It is far more productive to work on one thing at a time, for instance, when I log onto my bank, I will go to the emails under the “Bank” category where I have put anything to do with money coming in or going out or anything that I need to check on my bank statement. That way I stay focused on what I am doing at that moment, without the distraction of other emails in my inbox. When you are working on the categories, remember to select “sort by category”. And once dealt with, file or delete!
STEP 4 – Keep minimum emails in your inbox
When I switch on my computer in the morning, I do a speed email session. I give myself one hour, after which I leave my emails alone or concentrate on specific emails that have relevance to my business. I go through the emails and immediately delete the junk emails or ones that I don’t need to read, skipping over the ones that I need to do something with and not forgetting to unsubscribe if I don’t need to receive that email again. I then go back to the top and group what is left into its category so that I can deal with similar things at the same time. Next I go through each category, including the ones that are left ungrouped. Within the groups I first deal with the ones that don’t require too much action, e.g. a newsletter from school, I would quickly read and make a note of any dates or actions in my diary. If I need for reference at a later stage, it gets filed under one of my kids names, otherwise deleted. Once I have done this, I am left with very few emails in my inbox, I try and keep it under 20 at all times – that means I have 20 things waiting for action or reply – any more than that and I feel completely stressed out! Some of those 20 then become part of what I plan to do in my day and become an item on my list in my diary or journal, where I allocate a specific amount of time to them. Others are things where I am waiting for responses from other people, so just have to leave them there as a reminder. Even those cannot stay for too long and sometimes rather get put as a follow up in my diary and then filed in a folder.
STEP 5 – Close your email
Unless you are actually working with specific emails, rather close your email or make sure that the notifications are switched off so that you don’t get distracted by emails coming in. Have set times in the day where you do your speed email sessions and limit the time that you spend doing it. If you have the type of business where you need to action emails often, you can do this more frequently, but make sure that when you are working on something else, you are not being constantly distracted by emails.
STEP 6 – Be respectful towards others
So having said all that and knowing that we all need email to work for us in our business, how do we change our attitude so that we don’t become an UNSUBSCRIBE statistic? Be mindful of how much email people are receiving and rather don’t bombard them with one email after another. Make sure that what you are sending out is of value to others. Try and keep emails short and to the point. Not every email requires a response, decide whether you really need to say “thank you” or “pleasure” as it is just another email for someone to delete!
You will find that once you have your email under control, you have far more time to do the things that actually count in your business.