Getting to Zero: Email Management

Today’s topic is email management – something I’m sure all of you struggle with.

The amount of emails we get in a day is mind-boggling, so the question is how do you make sure you respond to them all without losing your mind or spending all your time answering emails!

My goal is to get to zero before I go to bed every night so I start with a fresh slate the next day. Most of the time my Inbox looks like the picture below.

Before you say – IMPOSSIBLE let me explain how I get there:

The key to my system is that I remove from view anything I’ve already dealt with and immediately delete anything I never need to see again. For everything else I use that magic GMAIL button “Archive.” For those using Mac mail you can just drag an email into an archive folder that you create.

What archive means to me is I have done everything I need to with this email right now, but I may want to reference it in the future. Thus I’ll archive it and if I need to refer to it in the future I’ll simply search for it either by the sender, a word in the email, etc.

Many of you may have 2000 emails in your Inbox – how do you possibly know what you have to do? Instead each morning you mentally scroll through the list saying, “yes I’ve done that,” “no I need to still do that.” Or perhaps you mark emails as unread or flag them if you still need to address them. The problem with all of these is that you’re constantly spending time reprocessing irrelevant information. Why not remove everything from view that is no longer relevant?

Let’s look at the types of emails I get:

1) Daily Digests/Subscriptions, Etc.
2) Client Emails with Requests
3) Inquiries from Potential Clients
4) Personal Emails
5) Spam

Ok – so how do I deal with these?

1) I subscribe to the BARE minimum of daily emails. Usually you don’t have time to read them anyway, so why not seek them out online when you DO have time to read them and not feel like a bad person when they pile up in your Inbox and can’t read them? The other good option that I also employ is the “To Read” folder. Move emails into this folder that you want to read sometime but you don’t have time to read now.
2) Do it! If it’s an ongoing project or you are waiting on something from a client then put it in a waiting on folder and check it daily – seeing what you can accomplish and archive from there.
3) Respond! Call them. Email them information – whatever your normal course of action is take it and then archive the email. Some people wait to batch handle these – do that if you prefer but I think most people like a prompt answer. If you want to follow up with the person write a note in your calendar for a few days later and then archive.
4) Write back and then archive

If you squint on the left side you will see some folders that I keep for email I want to keep together. Here are my categories:
1) Email to Save – Password or account information that have continuing relevant importance.
2) HA/Up – A friend told me that she saved all the nice or funny emails she received in one place so when she was having a bad day she could go look at them and laugh 🙂 (I featured some here to keep you interested!!)
3) OC_Expenses – Once I record my expenses in Quickbooks all business receipts get filed here. I do this because I purchase from so many different vendors it would be impossible to remember all of them come tax time.
4) OC_Revenue – Similarly – once I record revenue in Quickbooks this gets filed so they are all in one place.
5) Photography Reference – Good articles I’ve read, sites I’ve come across, etc.
6) Raves – Another feel good folder -this one from clients
7) Stuff to Re-Visit/Pending – Things I might do in the future but don’t have time for now
8) Wedding – Come July 13th this folder will go bye bye 🙂 For now it’s a helpful place to store communication with our vendors, etc.

Some people only check their email twice a day and spend an hour or two responding to them. I think this is fabulous but I’m not yet that disciplined ☺ Instead I check email between tasks and quickly respond before I get on to my next project.

Ok – what now?

So if you are one of those people with 2000 emails in your Inbox (or maybe more!) just get going on it – set a timer and spend ½ hour each day cleaning them out and putting them in an archive folder. You’ll be surprised how quickly it goes and before you know it…you’re at zero.

Some of my clients find it easiest to do them by date, others find grouping them by sender helps them follow an ongoing “conversation” and more easily know if there are any outstanding requests that need to be taken care of.

As you are going through them keep your to-do list close at hand – no doubt there will be many things added to it ☺

Getting to zero is the hardest part – staying there is the key and is less overwhelming because at any given time you know exactly what you have to do.

Good luck – email me or post comments with any questions or troubles. I hope in a matter of days your Inboxes will be gloriously clean ☺

Next time: The to do list program that keeps me honest and makes me productive!