Effectively Managing Your Inbox
Your Inbox Is Full – Now What?
You’ve started a business. You’re receiving inquiries, introductory letters, resumes and everything in between—where on earth do you begin? You don’t need a Xanax and phone conversation with your therapist at three in the morning; you simply need to act. Below we’re going to describe how you can effectively resolve your homepage panic attacks and start using your email for business.
Human Error Approach
There are a thousand different automated services out there offering you a thousand different results—why worry about that headache? When something goes wrong, you won’t spent 90+ minutes on the phone with IT support for a simple fix. You’ll have 100% power and control over this entire system; you can tweak it to your specifications! I’m not going to suggest subscribing to an email management service, nor taking the time to audit your emails for the sake of an automated program. You’re managing a business—how does zero operating cost sound?
You don’t have to tell me. I’m salivating, too.
We are going to use good old-fashioned human error—that’s right: we’re taking the Human Error Approach. (It’ll catch on, I swear.)
Rely On Your Mind
Let’s face it—we all rely on technology to simplify parts of our life. You don’t see your neighbor lugging in an ice block to keep his larder chilled, do you? However, there’s a certain point where it takes complete control, and it’s absence ignites chaos in the deepest crevices of your mind. We’re going to avoid that; we’re going to use your mind. No panic, no chaos, just a smooth-running operation. Here’s what you’re going to do: open your email.
For these examples, I am going to be referring to Google’s Gmail service. It’s the most widely-used and simplistic email service there is. Open up, and head on over to the ‘Create Labels’ feature. This is your lifesaving filter. Create the following.
- Needs Review
Three simple categories. Let’s get into them.
These absolutely cannot wait. If you’re on the road and your phone pings, don’t get into the habit of answering them at red lights. You’ll risk your own safety, and if I were behind you, I’d probably beep at you. A lot. When that critical email pops up, quickly categorize it and put it into your critical tab. These are emails that need a response within 2-3 hours.
Vendors, contractors—they can bug you pretty badly. Urgent is designed for tasks that need to be adhered to, though fall one tier below the Critical tab. Urgent emails should be answered by the end of your business day. When it’s not crucial to your business continuing the next day-to-day functions, it needs to come second in line.
When the inflow is piling up, I find that most of my emails can be put on the Needs Review tab, which I allot myself 2-3 days to reply to applications, resumes, inquiries to non-crucial operations—they all end up here, in the sort-of-but-not dead letters office. I’m going to review them, I’m just not going to prioritize over the other items on my to-do list.
Intermission & The Great Breath
I’d love to tell you that it’s become instantly simple—we’re still getting there, so bear with me. We’ll be idealist best friends by the end of this, I’m certain. I want you to take a deep breath, and then look at your inbox. Don’t say the number aloud; it’s better to keep the profanities trapped inside. You’re going to deal with these, but not just yet. This is the point in our journey where you can skip down to Dealing With It All, or you can truly master your inbox for the rest of your days. It’s your choice, but remember this: you didn’t land on this page for a temporary fix to a permanent problem.
For personally managing my email (I receive around 15,700 personally-written emails per year) I use more than just the 3 necessary tabs. It helps you to eternally organize your inbox, or so I’ve found for the last three years. Depending on what your business or reason is for prioritizing your inbox, try these tabs:
- Receipts/Invoices (If money’s gone out, come in, or someone’s requesting it, put it here.)
- Newsletters (Annoying, though sometimes helpful newsletters from your vendors.)
- Comments/Complaints (If you have a survey system, put those results here.)
- Business – Past (Answered those emails from the three categories above? Put ‘em here.)
- Business – Present (Currently playing email tag? Don’t leave it in your inbox; here goes!)
- Business – Future (For upcoming business-related tasks.)
You shouldn’t have too many unnecessary emails coming your way. (Thank you spam filters!) Ensure you don’t use your company email address to sign up for magazine subscriptions, rewards cards, the list goes on and on. It’ll make your whole life a lot easier. Now that there’s a place for everything, and everything is in it’s place, it’s time to look at the grim, cold truth—you have to deal with your current inbox and it’s tolling debt on your insanity. Here’s how to do it without ripping your hair out:
Dealing With It All
When you’ve made your tabs/labels, you’ve begun prioritizing your incoming emails into those categories we discussed first, well, you’re on the right track. But now, you need to actually sift through the rubble and plunder the treasures from within. Namely, the actually important emails. However monumental that proverbial stack is, it has to be dealt with: assign yourself sometimes. Even if it’s just 15 minutes of dedicated time per day, it will soon prove effective in managing that hectic pile of emails. Read and respond, assign them to their appropriate tabs, and do so until your inbox reaches zero. Now for preventing this problem from happening again.
Break Habits; Craft Systems
We all do it; the phone rings, and we swipe the email notification. Even if you have no intention or desire to read that email right now, you should at least throw a label on it. Toss it into one of the three primary categories we discussed, and get to it when you have some time later in the day. Repetition is your teacher. If you get a notification, immediately toss that into a category. Over time, you’ll develop new habits that will set you on the path to continued success. (And no more headaches.)
Until Next Time,