I don’t know about you, but I get a heap of emails. Not just enquiries from potential clients but also thank you emails, a whole lot of newsletters I’ve signed up for, various adverts from various companies, emails from suppliers, statements and bills…you name it, I seem to get it (via email). I find that with a smartphone, emails are even more crazy because my phone pings and dings all day long, and I stop to read them (skim them) and don’t action them right then. This then means I come back to my desk on a Monday morning feeling like I only really vaguely know what’s going on and I’ve got a brain full of mush.
Here’s a few ways that I tame the email beast:
- Spend a bit of time UNsubscribing from stuff. I sign up for things all enthusiastically, read them like mad for a few weeks (okay, days) and then I lose interest and become efficient at deleteing them daily. There are some that I think “I’ll come back to reading that someday” and those ones I will filter into their own folders. Everything else – BUH BYE! I also get rid of any newsletter that is more frequent than weekly – for me, it’s just too much to read a daily digest. Seriously, go into your email today and unsubscribe from a bunch of stuff and you’ll be amazed at how much crap you didn’t even realise you have signed up for (hello, emails from Oprah and Ellen!)
- I llooovveee using the “auto response” feature in email and I use this for the end of the week, when I am busy with making cake. I set up an automatic email which says something like, “The end of the week is a busy one for us as we prepare for all our weekend orders. Emails sent Wed-Fri will take a bit longer to get to, so if your matter is urgent or time sensitive, please call us on (phone number).”
- I END email conversations before they start – especially with clients who want to get a quote or schedule a time to meet. Those email conversations can go on for days and days when a simple phone call will do the job. So a vast majority of the time, I will answer a “how much is this cake” email with a phone call. It gives me the chance to save time in answering emails, gives them the opportunity to get to know me and my products a bit better, and best of all: I almost always make the sale because it’s a lot harder for them to say no over the phone.
- I also END email conversations which have gotten out of control. You know, the ones where they want to change the colour and then get a new quote, then change the number of servings and then get a new quote, then ask if you deliver and then get a new quote, then ask if they have Elmo instead if that changes the quote…and so on. If a conversation over email has surpassed 4-5 replies, I just pick up the phone and call them!
- I do not give in to email Nazis who try to make me feel crappy because I did not reply in 0.4 seconds to their request. This are the people who complain that I did not answer them quick enough, or who need something URGENTLY for tonight or tomorrow but who emailed rather than called, OR the people who tell me that my delayed reply means that I did not get the sale. Yeah, no. I’m not getting sucked into your vortex of evil. You’ve got a phone, please use it (and this is why *I* use a phone with clients, too – because I’m educating people that it’s a much, much faster way to communicate. Let these people go. Do not reply and apologise.
- I have a defined time of day when I will answer email, usually the same as my office hours. I don’t reply to emails outside of business hours unless they are personal. The problem with replying to customers at odd hours is that they they learn to expect replies at odd hours, and get frustrated when you’re not at their beck and call. Train your clients not to expect a reply unless you are actually at work.
- Ruthlessly delete stuff. Seriously. If you really and truly want it later, create a “Action Later” folder where you move all the stuff you would like to get to eventually. Once a month go and clear that out – by reading them, deleting them, forwarding them, whatever.
- Do not allow your inbox to have more than 10 emails in it (I’m an overachiever, so I aim for 8). It just ends up being overwhelming to look (and scroll past) all that stuff every day, and you end up just cherry picking stuff instead of actually moving it out of your life or doing something about it. I love the expression “messy desk, messy mind” and I think you can apply it to email – “messy inbox, messy mind.” Clean that stuff up and I promise you will breathe easier the next time you log in.
- Don’t allow personal emails to clutter your work in-box. You should have a business email address, and your friends shouldn’t be using that address. Similarly don’t sign up to horoscope newsletters and daily joke emails with your business email address (even if I think a bit of humour is essential to running a business.)
One of the hardest tasks as a small business owner is keeping all the paperwork (virtual or otherwise!) under control. One minute you seem on top of it, the next minute you’re overwhelmed by it – and email is one of those places where overwhelm happens in the blink of an eye (almost literally). Being disciplined about it – even just a little bit – can make the world of difference to how you’re feeling about running the business, especially in those weeks when it seems like the sky is falling.
If you’ve found a great way to control the endless tide of email, please share in the comments – I’d love to hear what works for you.