By guest blogger, Erica Duran
My clients — especially those who are lawyers — usually list “managing email” as their number one distraction or barrier to productivity on a day-to-day basis. You may think that me, being a Certified Professional Organizer®, I would have an elaborate system of virtual file folders to sort and archive all of my email.
But, my system for processing the daily flood of emails is fairly simple and I am ready to share!
This system won’t work for everyone, but for me, and most of my one-to-one clients it works just fine. After they’ve been using this method for a few weeks, I check in with them. When I follow-up my clients usually say things like: “I feel totally in control and on top of my email inbox now.” They claim that they feel an overall calmness and focus throughout their workday. They also feel unleashed from their email checking addiction.
But, I have been known to upset some people in my live workshops with these suggestions. They just can’t seem to embrace the fact that email was never meant to be an urgent form of communication and they feel the need to constantly check their email (if you are interested on this topic there is more here: “Are You A Insecurity Work Addict?”) and they tend to have their email program open all day will all the bells, whistles and pop-up notifications jolting them out of focus.
Now, I know some jobs require that you respond to email all day and that is in fact in your job description. Or, you may have a job in finance or real estate where the response time or the time where you would need to take action on an email is accelerated. But, for most of us – no one is going to die or loose any revenue from our businesses if we don’t instantly respond to email. If a matter is that urgent, you’d probably receive a phone call about it anyway, right?
So, here is how I personally set up my email and how I process it:
1. First, I turned off all notification buzzers, bells, tweets, and pop-ups. This goes for my phone, iPad, desktop, laptop…every machine. You are not one of Pavlov’s dogs. You don’t need to jump every time a bell goes off. With the amount of email you probably receive in a day, and if you have a pop-up notification on your computer desktop for every email that came in, it is no wonder why you can’t focus on the task at hand or get anything completed. You may even feel a little edgy or cranky from all the interruptions. So, just try living without the sound and visual notifications for a week. See how your focus, productivity and creativity improves.
2. I “batch” my email sessions. Batching email means letting emails pile up in your inbox so that you can process them all in your next email session with the flow and momentum that batching similar tasks together brings. Batching email also means that you have specific times during the day where you go through your email inbox and process everything. The goal is to have your inbox clear and a decision made on every message during an email session.
For the email addicts I work with, I usually recommend that they try starting with 3-5 email sessions per day. Then, gradually try to get their email sessions down to one to two session per day and building more and more time in-between sessions.
In a normal work week situation, I personally check my email one to two times a day. But, there have been times when a whole week or two would go by if I was traveling or really focused on a project and I didn’t check it at all! And, I lived!
3. I turn off my email program completely when I am not in a “batched” email session. Don’t worry, you won’t miss an email – it will be waiting for you during your next email session – trust the system!
4. I take the extra two to five seconds and unsubscribe from companies I no longer want to hear from. Yes, it takes a tiny bit more time than just deleting the email, but I will never receive or have to delete an email from them again if I unsubscribe!
I think we overestimate the time it takes to unsubscribe. Last month I was receiving about 200-300 emails a day. I knew that with the holidays coming up there would be more where that came from with all the sales and events of the season. Each day I took the extra second to unsubscribe from what was coming in rather than just deleting the emails. I kept only the newsletters I really love getting and get high value content from and a few from companies and stores that I actually buy from. I was amazed that my emails went from the 200-300 per day down to about 10-20!
Honestly, at first I felt a little “needy”. Why was I getting so few emails all of a sudden? Was it something I said? Did no one want productivity help anymore? But, then I remembered about all the unsubscribing.
5. No emails “live” in my email inbox. Again, the goal of each batched email session is to have my inbox clear and a decision made on everything in there. I create email sessions where I “deal” with each email that comes in following these 4 rules:
- If it will take 2 minutes or less, I just take care of it. Get the sender the answer to their request or question. This is using the two-minute rule we talked about a few weeks ago.
- Unsubscribe right then an there if I no longer want the publication or updates
- Trash email that is clearly trash. These are emails from people or companies where I want to be on their list still, but I either have already read the email or this particular email is of no interest to me. I don’t want to unsubscribe, I just don’t want this email.
- Move appropriate emails to the “Pending” Folder. I created just one email folder on my sidebar labeled “Pending”. This is where all the emails go that will either take longer than two minutes to answer, or I need to schedule time to do more research in order to answer the email. I usually write a trigger in my planner about what needs to be done in order to get the information to answer the email. Or, if you are not using a planner, during each batched email session you scan the pending folder to see if you can answer anything at that time. The reason for a Pending Folder is so that your inbox is clear after each email session. The biggest time waster I see is people constantly shuffling email around in the inbox and re-reading emails because there is no distinction between what is a new email and which ones have been read but need further information or time to answer.
6. Think before you archive. I don’t have an elaborate email “Reference” folder system on my sidebar. I’ve seen clients with literally hundreds of folders! Why? Email is searchable! For most of us, we don’t need to create a bunch of reference folders in our email programs. This is like having too many paper file systems. Paper filing systems are not searchable and therefore folders are needed. But, as you probably heard, over 80% of those papers are never referenced again! The percentage jumps up to about 95% of emails! So, I don’t believe people should waste their time with an elaborate “Reference” email folder system.
7. I do have a few “Action” email folders on my sidebar. These are just a few folders where I’ve set up a “Rule” function in my email program so the email goes directly to the folder instead of my inbox. I know that the emails coming from these particular places do not need to go to me to see them and sort them from my inbox first. I can be in control of when I look at them and respond or read them at a later time that works better for me.
For example, I get three emails a day from the media requesting articles, quotes, etc. All of these emails bypass my inbox and go directly to a folder named “Media Requests”. I am in control of when I sit down and answer these all in one batch.
Another example is the many emails I get from my merchant account when someone purchases a product or coaching session. These emails don’t need to be in my inbox either but I like to tally everything on a cash flow sheet at the end of the day. These emails are all collected in one spot so it makes the tally easy at the end of the day. I also have a little cash register sound that goes off when these emails come in. For some reason that bell isn’t a distraction, it is a celebration and motivation.
8. I never use the “Flags” or “Flag for Follow-up” tool. I’ve worked with thousands of people over the years and these flags never really seem to be a good trigger for anyone. I’d rather use my planner or my email “Pending” Folder. The flags just seem to become wallpaper after awhile. But, if they work for you – great!
Like I said, this system won’t work for everyone, but you can pick and choose what tips you like and try them in your system.
As you can see I am pretty passionate about taming the email beast that plagues so many entrepreneurs! I would love to hear what has worked and what didn’t work for you.
American Express Small Business Open Forum has dubbed Erica Duran as the “The Productivity Expert for Entrepreneurs”.
Erica Duran, CPO®, is a Published Business Productivity Expert, Coach and Certified Professional Organizer®. She has a strong background in sales, marketing, technology and has been a veteran entrepreneur herself for over 20 years.
At Erica Duran International (www.EricaDuran.Co) she mentors both new and established entrepreneurs and C-level executives from around the globe on how to reach the level of success they’ve been dreaming of and obtain the balanced lifestyle they crave.
Erica Duran teaches her clients all her secrets of productivity and time mastery. She also works with them to automate and create customized, yet simple step-by-step systems that allow them to focus on their revenue-generating activities. These techniques and systems increase their income immediately while freeing up tons of new-found leisure time.
Erica has over 100 published articles and is a contributor and on the expert panel for AMEX Small Business Open Forum, Under 30 CEO, Moms In Charge, Marmalade Magazine, Secret Entourage, GoFireYourself.com, and more. She has been awarded with the Diamond Level Expert Author on EzineArticles.com and “The Top 5% of all Viewed Profiles” out of over 200 million profiles on LinkedIn.com.
Erica has designed her own line of professional day planners and numerous business and life management tools.
She is currently working on a new book, Urban Escape, to encourage people who are stuck in a j.ob. or a “society dictated” lifestyle to escape the rate race and start you life!
Erica is an active raw vegan who absolutely loves living in beautiful Newport Beach, California with her much loved dogs, but she escapes several times a year to live and work remotely in various locations on her coined “Work-cations™”.
Read more about Erica’s story and claim your free CD and eBook “Top 10 Productivity Secrets for Entrepreneurs” at www.EricaDuran.co.