It’s one of the most common dilemmas entrepreneurs and small business owners face.
You know the feeling: you start hopping from one email to another without getting anything done, or you stare at your inbox in a state of paralysis on the regular. Every ding sends a little ripple of panic through you.
That feeling of overwhelm can be debilitating, and no entrepreneur out there has time for that!
So how do you get out of that yucky state of overwhelm and into a positive mindset of productivity?
You put processes in place, and then you execute.
And I’m here to help you!
Here are four ways you can get your email overwhelm under control right now and prevent your inbox from becoming a distraction rather than a tool.
1) Declutter Your Inbox
If you have an overflowing inbox, the first thing you need to do is clear it out. I know…this can be a huge task depending on how long you’ve allowed your inbox to get out of control. ? But you can do it!
Start by spending just ten minutes doing a rapid delete of spam and promo emails. When you start to see the number go down, you’ll feel accomplished and be motivated to keep going. Trust me, it works!
Then spend more time deleting emails you know you don’t need or want to read. Start with the oldest ones first since those are likely easier to delete or archive.
Now unsubscribe to mailing lists you don’t read anymore. These could be things like social media updates, newsletters, store coupon emails, etc. I just finished a massive unsubscribe purge and it’s made a world of difference with my email overwhelm.
Bonus Tip: Don’t forget to clear out your spam folders regularly. You never know what can accidentally end up in there, plus it’ll help lower your inbox storage space.
2) Organize Your Email Automatically
Once you’ve knocked down the number of emails in your inbox, you’ll want to prevent the buildup from happening again. Remember, it’s easier to keep up than to catch up. The objective is not necessarily to have your inbox always at zero but to find a system that works for YOU.
I suggest organizing your emails into folders to drastically cut down on your inbox number. Many email programs allow you to create rules for filtering incoming emails. You could label folders as “Needs Action Now,” “Read Later,” “Reference,” or any other useful categories. This will help you deal with your incoming messages much more effectively. It also provides an organized system of past emails so you have an archive to refer back to should you need it.
Some people prefer to keep all their emails in their inbox so they can see at a glance what they have to deal with. If this is you, then use flags, colored labels, stars, or whatever is available in your system to indicate the priority for answering messages. Whatever works best for you is the system you should use!
Don’t forget to schedule time in your calendar to deal with emails you’ve flagged or placed in a folder. It won’t do you a bit of good to file something away to read later if you never go back to read it ?
3) Establish Your Email Handling Policy
To save yourself time and keep control of your inbox, you have to make decisions about how you’ll handle your messages. Write this up into a policy. You might not think you need to write it down, but it helps to have a physical reminder of how to handle your day-to-day email management. It’ll help keep you focused and help others you work with know what to expect from you.
There are two main components your policy should include: when and how to deal with emails.
When to deal with emails
You don’t have to answer emails the second they ping into your inbox. This is a waste of your time, and what’s urgent for others isn’t necessarily urgent for you.
Here are a few ways you can schedule your email management time:
- Block out time each day for emails. For example, do 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes before you wrap up for the day
- Schedule email management for when your energy levels aren’t at your highest; you’ll want to save your high-energy focus for more demanding tasks
- Choose to answer emails only on certain days of the week and turn on an auto-reply message so everyone is clear when you do and do not deal with emails
Bonus Tip: If you have global customers or don’t want the email recipient to know you’re working at 2 a.m., schedule your emails. Gmail launched a new email scheduler so you can send emails for any specific day and time.
How to deal with emails
Not every email will need the same response. Some might be urgent while others might require more thought.
Here are a few helpful guidelines:
- If the email is urgent and important, you could deal with it right away
- If it’ll take two minutes or less to read and answer an email, you can go ahead and deal with it. Anything more complex, schedule it for a more appropriate time.
- If you know the person is waiting for an answer, send a quick response telling them when you’ll get back to them. This prevents you from being bugged again in two hours with another email from them asking why you haven’t responded.
4) Implement Tools to Prevent Email Overwhelm
Many email systems have a ton of helpful filtering and sorting tools. If you find you need more than the standard, there are several add-ons and extensions that can help you be more productive.
Two of my favorites are the Trello for Gmail Add-On and canned responses.
Trello for Gmail Add-On: This has been a game changer in how I manage my inbox. If an email includes a task I need to complete (besides responding to the actual email), I create a Trello card directly from the email. That way, the task is saved to my Trello board AND I can clear the email out of my inbox. Win-win!
Canned responses: If you find yourself writing the same response over and over to certain types of emails, you can create a canned response in your email account. A canned response is essentially a template you can use repeatedly with one click of a button. How to do this will vary by email provider, but here’s a great article on how to set up canned responses in Gmail.
Effectively managing your email overwhelm can make a huge impact on your business. Set aside some dedicated time in the next week to tackle your inbox and see how much time you can save!