We’re going to talk about email today. I know, not a subject that any of us enjoy, but a subject that we all deal with as a tiny business owner or not, the inbox is a problem for many people.
Let me start off by saying that I am not one of those people that has thousands of unread emails in my inbox. You know who you are. My husband has about 15,000 emails in that little red bubble of his Gmail, I am not that person, that would drive me crazy. But I’m also not one of those people that ever reach inbox zero. I tried for a while to get to inbox zero, and I ended up creating this odd folder where I would put things that I had to do, to follow up on. I completely forgot that the folder existed and that all the emails were in there. It was a major fail.
I understand both ends and today we’re going to aim for the middle. And I’ll be the first to admit that the tips that I’m going to give you may not necessarily work for you, but I feel like as long as we’re always trying something to get to our desired email happy place, whatever that is, that looks like, it can really help us deal with it.
I’d also like to encourage, that if you have great tips, please share them because we all can use some help in this area. I’m going to share five tips that have helped me. There are so many more than that out there, but to avoid the overwhelm, we’ll focus on five. I’m also trying to share pretty generic ones, as some of us use Gmail, some of us use Outlook, some of us use Apple mail and some of us use random things. Because of this, I’m going to stick with the theories, not with specific tools, but I love to hear about the tools. If you know about tools for outlook as so many are for Gmail, absolutely let me know!
The first of the five tips that I’m going to talk about today is to touch it once. You know when you get that feeling like you answered it in your head or that you don’t want to deal with the email and then it sits there and then you feel like you’re answering it all the time and it gives you odd anxiety?
Maybe it’s only me, but I get email anxiety about answering emails. A great way to handle that is to touch it once. What do I mean by that? If you read the email, you answer the email. It also means that when you see an email and you open up your email, immediately delete the things that don’t belong there, file the things that go into folders, but remove the things that don’t need to be there. Immediately touch it once don’t open and then ignore everything and then you have to go back in later and see a huge, huge amount of it.
That gets us to our second tip. Get in there only one to three times a day. Sure, there are always reasons why we have to pop in, open up our email, quickly answer something that is some sort of emergency for business or compose an email of some sort. But I’m talking about when you get in there and you end up sitting there for 20 minutes, doing nothing. Try to not do that multiple times a day.
If you can avoid email for most of the day, except for three times for half an hour each, that’s ideal, but diffucult for a tiny business owner as we do wear all the hats. If you’re going in there to just write an email or to quickly reply to an email, don’t touch anything else. Unless you have time to sit there and do the touch it once rule, meaning if you’re going to touch it, deal with it, file it, delete it, answer it, if that’s one of your times to check all of that.
I am not one of those people that believes that if you just leave everything in your inbox, that you can easily find things by searching. I like email folders. I use them. So I’m not against the email folders. If they work for you. It’s sometimes so much faster for me to go in and quickly scroll through a particular folder, let’s say, for a board I am on, than it is for me to search it. That’s just me. Depending on how you operate, if you don’t want to use folders, you don’t have to use folders. Part of my touching it in those three times a day is to put them away in folders.
Onto the third tip, and because three is my favorite number it’s the biggest tip of all. Find your email happy time. If I sit down and try to write emails in the morning, I struggle over what to say. I’ve already admitted that I get weird email answering anxiety, even over very simple things. Now I’m oversharing that if I sit down between the hours of 4:00 and 6:00 PM, the words flow from my fingers. I say all the things, not only do I answer all of the emails and process all of the emails, but I’m usually looking for more emails to send at that time.
Due to this, I keep a list of connections I want to make, of people that I want to reach out to, of things like that. From four to six, if I can get some uninterrupted time at my desk, I love answering emails. Find your happy time for emails. We all have a certain time of the day that it just is easier.
The fourth tip is to use rules. I really started to get into this just this past year. I set up rules so when certain things come in, they automatically go into folders and I can go in and look at them when I have time, but I don’t get overwhelmed with the touch at once feeling like I have to read them. I can go check it later, usually from that 4:00 to 6:00 PM block. So rules can be really good of just putting aside the things that you need and want to sort, but don’t necessarily have the time to read during your email time all day, every day, newsletters, release notes, bills to pay, notices of when things get shipped.
Lastly, our fifth tip is to use signatures. Michael Hyatt goes into this in great detail in one of his books, either Free To Focus or Best Year Ever. He talks about how his organization and he, as a person have set up the signatures to auto-respond to emails. The traditional signature would still appear at the bottom but in that signature block, he will have the faqs of whatever somebody is reaching out about.
When I read this, my first thought was, how many of those should I have, five? Let me tell you, Michael Hyatt as an individual has around 80, and his organization has like 130 that they use. So you can have tons of them. It makes it an easy place to keep those auto-replies you want to have handy. You can start to craft replies as you start to see more of them coming in. Don’t think you have to sit down right now and put together 100 signatures. You can put together one to start.
And there it is, those are my five tips to help get your email a little bit under control. The first is to touch it once the second is get in there only three times a day, if possible, get in there and touch it once three times a day. How about that? The third is, do find your happy email time. Fourth is to use rules and the fifth is to utilize those signatures.
What do you find great success with your email? We want to know. Some of us find it always fun to talk about tips for getting that email tamed!