I confess, I struggle to stay on top of my emails. Inbox zero often disappears off into the horizon as a distant goal. It's either real work or emails, and often it’s hard to find the time to do both. I imagine many others are the same - and I think many in this modern working world have just given up on it altogether.
It probably sounds really cliche, BUT staying on top of your email is seriously one of the best things you can do for yourself in business. Personally, I start feeling super stressed if my box starts to get beyond 50+ unread emails. And sometimes when I get overwhelmed, I become less productive and I'm more likely to procrastinate, on top of feeling a certain level of anxiety and guilt.
I firstly want to point out that answering emails often leads to big opportunities. It's crazy to think that there might be an email sitting in your box right now that might lead you to a new venture, a new opportunity, or a long-term partnership.
So here are some ideas I have come up with on how to manage emails better and help others do the same (some of these are things I am trying to implement in my own organisation) - and I would love to know if others have any more:
Answer Tough Emails First
I know, you don't want to answer that one first. I get it. And I tend to think, "Oh I'll just gain some momentum by answering these quick ones first, and then I'll get back to that really time-consuming one later." But honestly, it doesn't usually work that way. I usually end up NOT getting to the tough one later, and then putting it off for longer than it needs. Meanwhile it's on my mind and distracting me from my other work. So, the best thing I've found is to tackle the tough ones first. Get it off your plate and out of your mind so you can move on to other tasks.
Create Template Answers for FAQs.
This is especially useful if you are working for yourself, and you handle a lot of "customer service" type emails. A lot of times you'll get the same or very similar questions repeatedly. Create a template answer that you can quickly copy and paste, and then maybe just customize a little to make it feel more authentic before you hit send. This can save you SO much time and give you go to short and snappy answers to reoccurring questions. Of course, there are emails where it would be inappropriate to send a templated answer. So just make sure you know the difference.
Organize and Sort Mail into Folders
Not only does it help you prioritize what emails might need a faster response or just more attention, it can also be beneficial when you need to go back through emails to find information you may have forgotten or need again. Depending on what email system you use, there are different ways to accomplish this. And I know one barrier will be finding the time to just set this up but add it to your to-do list one week to spend a couple hours creating your tabs or folders or however you plan to organize things, and I promise it will be time well spent.
Move Small Conversations to a Chat Platform
We all receive those small insignificant emails that often require a one-word answer to a question, and unfortunately these emails are more frequent than those important opportunities. By moving these regular conversations to chat platforms such as Slack, Whatsapp, Zoom Chat, Microsoft teams or Skype. You’ll begin to see your email become significantly less crowded and as a result far less overwhelming.
Unsubscribe from EVERYTHING you can Unsubscribe from
I am subscribed to quite a few newsletters. I know a lot of people will set up a different, more personal, email for these types of things so that it won't distract from their work email account. But it can also be a good exercise to go through and make sure you are still using and enjoying all the newsletters you are signed up for. If not, unsubscribe. It will only take a few seconds and will save you time as you won't have to receive those emails any longer.
So there are my main tips! However there is plenty more you can do to make those emails even more manageable! Below are my quickfire solutions for EVEN better email efficiency.
Send Less Email: If you send less, you receive less.
Use Live Documents: Work together on a document, and tag people in comments rather than emailing it to them. That can move a lot of traffic out of inboxes and into documents.
Do not Circulate News Articles or other General Updates: Instead post on Twitter or social media to share with entire world instead of just your organisation – and if you must share by email, copy full text of article, highlight key parts in yellow, send only to key people and add analysis of what is important.
Inbox Zero is Unrealistic: Try and at least make sure you are below 100 unread emails before you leave work every day.
Pre-plan: what times of day you are going to check emails? That way your most productive brain time is devoted to something else - something more important and proactive.
I hope these tips are useful in helping you to relieve the terrible stress of a giant email inbox! Let me know your tips and tricks for managing emails.