Email is the most used software and is such an important area of our business and personal lives. For me it’s how I communicate with our virtual assistants, with clients, it’s how I receive the news, it’s where I read articles to educate myself and stay up-to-date on my industry, it’s where I receive bills, it’s where I chat and where I share. This is true for many other people and because of this, it gets out-of-control. Keeping your email organized will boost your productivity, save you time, and help you preserve notoriety with clients and other important contacts.
A common frustration our clients ask us to to solve is gaining control of an email inbox. Emails getting lost, email replies days later, an inbox with over 500 unread emails and so on. You may have seen recommendations to create separate emails for different types of email. What ends up happening is too many emails to stay on top of and more of your time being eaten up by email management. Many times, it comes down to just keeping things simple to avoid chaos. Below I have listed some of the methods that simplify my inbox and help me stay efficient. Without these methods, I don’t think I would be capable of managing all the clients and projects I work with on a day-to-day basis.
1. Send Less Email
Have you ever been in discussion about something and as things come to mind, you send an email? By the time you’ve said everything you wanted to say, 5 or 6 emails have gone out. The more emails you send, the more emails you will receive. Not only does your inbox get full with multiple emails from one discussion, you lose track of what was said. A trick is to create a draft email and start laying out your email with main points of your discussion. Take your time to reply, make it clear and easy to understand to avoid further discussion, and go back to it if something else comes to mind. Once you have everything you need to say, organize the email by topic thus creating a summary in one email vs. sending multiple emails for each topic.
Another trick is to request the recipient to reply to your email by adding their responses in a different color to avoid them sending multiple replies.
2. Create a System or Routine
Create a system to keep your inbox in control. For example, maybe you will only check your email inbox at certain times of the day in between your work (i.e. 8am, 11am, 2pm…). At those times, start with deleting emails you know you don’t need. Then move on to scanning for emails that are important and may be to-do’s. Either Star or mark those emails unread. Let’s say you decide to star emails that are important or to-do’s you need to get back to. Then move on to emails that need your response… and so on. In doing this you have created an email system. The most important thing is to stick to the system every day (of course there may be times you have urgent matters that you will have to bypass your system).
3. Create Folders
I can’t live without my folders (or labels in Gmail). In my opinion, keeping everything in Inbox is just crazy! Folders are one of the best ways to reduce clutter and efficient way to refer back to email history.
An example folder is a To-Do folder. When you receive emails that require your attention and an action, move them into your To-Do folder. I also have a folder called Reading where I automatically move any articles or newsletters I want to read at a later time. Admittedly, sometimes I never make it back to this folder but there have been times when I am looking for specific information and I refer back to articles I have saved in that folder. I have also been told by clients that they have a special folder just for BusySuperVA so they can go back to our emails in one place.
It is possible to go “folder-happy” by creating too many folders, duplicate folders or folders for just one email. Doing this depreciates the purpose of folders. Create folders for main topics or for contacts you consistently communicate with only.
For example, prior to the transition to BusySuperVA with my sister, Yaritza, I kept track of email communication with clients by creating a folder for each client. With BusySuperVA, we merged to now offer services in three different areas and have a larger clientele. We also use a project management workspace which reduces email communication so, we decided we only needed to have one folder called BSVA-Clients. Any and all communication with clients gets moved to this folder and, if necessary, we use the search function.
4. Use Filters
Take your folders a step further by creating filters. I believe filters are highly underutilized.Filters can automate email organization making it easier for you to find things and keep your inbox clutter free. Filters can be created in almost any email client including Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo and Outlook.
Let’s say you have a very important project or active client you are working with and you want to immediately know when you receive email communication for the project or client. A filter that can be setup is if anytime an email comes in with the words “ABC Project,” it will automatically be starred. Another example is emails for personal matters. You can setup a filter that automatically places emails from specific people to go into your “Personal” folder.
Again, you can go filter-happy so use filters with caution.
5. Prioritize Emails
I have learned and still have to remind myself that just because a new email has arrived does not mean I have to read it or respond at that moment. In the past when I have done this, it completely distracted me from what I was working on at the moment and I would use up time getting lost in my email instead of working on important tasks. Give yourself a time-frame to respond to emails and learn to prioritize emails so they don’t take away from other important things. I tend to have my email open at all times throughout the day, but when I have too much work at the same time, I close it and only “check-in” after I finish a project and before moving on to the next.
6. Take Advantage of Email Apps
Applications like Boomerang and Unroll.me can make email management a breeze. Both integrate with Gmail and Outlook to help with little things like reminding you to follow up on discussions/emails, sending emails at a later time, unsubscribing to unwanted email subscriptions all at once, and much more. They take a minute to setup and are free!
7. Get Help!
Virtual Assistants can be a great investment to help you keep things like your inbox in control. Avoid missing important emails from clients or customers by having Virtual Assistants monitor your email. Going out-of-town or attending a conference for a few days? Have a Virtual Assistant respond to important emails on your behalf with canned responses. One of the reasons I love Gmail is because you can grant read and write access to an external user. Contact us for more information about helping you manage your email.
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