I always look forward to the start of a New Year. It can be considered a fresh start for many, and a milestone date that makes it easy for almost anyone to start calculating and trying to keep a new found motivation, ambition, drive, and goal at its peak. The problem is maintaining that new found momentum.
As with many gyms, it is a matter of weeks before the new years resolution to keeping fit caves in and just as quickly as it was found it is lost. Sadly though, the same cannot be said about emails. They just keep growing hourly, daily and weekly until they become unbearable which over time effects your productivity and does not allow you to get real things done.
So how do you make "Spring Cleaning" to in fact be "New Years" Cleaning?
It is straight forward, but first here is my background. I receive about 80-200 emails daily that must be responded to, across multiple accounts, and each have different levels of importance, urgency, responsibilities that either myself or a co-worker must deal with. Not answering email for even a day can seem overwhelming. Sounds Familiar?
I use a simple structure of 10 folders. Yes 10... 3-5 folders just does not quite cut it for me, I need to be specific with my file management, and not general otherwise a someday or later folder should be nicknamed the never or forgotten folder. Here is my list:
#1 Backup - This is my favorite folder, this is where all emails end up after a period of time. I have it labelled as first, because it lets me see how many emails I received and closed that week. Any emails from other folders, when completely closed, go here.
#2 Things - This is the miscellaneous folder for daily items, whether that be for research, reminders, items to buy for a project, or general chit chat between others within the industry, they all go here.
#3 Basecamp - Any management system which has notifications with basecamp all go here, otherwise this can take over my inbox.
#4 Action - For that task, or email that you must complete before switching off your computer, this folder usually has a handful of emails, and changes daily. Usually once completed it moves to the mid convo for recapping or backup folder for closure.
#5 New Projects - The most useful folder, for helping handle new clients to send proposals, details for signing up, or scheduling calls with details saved.
#6 SEO - Anything related to client seo, digital marketing projects and reports.
#7 Mid Convo - A very useful folder that has helped me tremendously keep track of the back and forth dialogues between others, whether that be existing clients, friends, clients that just signed up, past clients. If I need to see who I am speaking to currently in email conversation, and those that may need a quick reminder or check in to get a response, all go here until the dialogue has been completed and then finds its way to the backup folder. Do Note that naming this folder to something that makes sense to you as an intermediate folder is very important.
#8 Internal - For all emails between colleagues, and team members including financial details.
#9 PR - maintaining social updates, notifications, award submissions amongst other things that help the business PR to move. This folder is also important once an email is in dialogue to give priority to make things move faster.
#10 Open Support - For any troubleshooting, issues, problems that should be dealt with and are still in dialogue until resolved and closed.
One of the important things to note with #1 Backup, and why it is the most important, is that every month, this folder can be backed up off your mailing account to make sure you keep your storage space clean, and that you can keep a fresh cycle of emails to your server. The worst scenario is finding out that you have 100% of your 10gb email storage used, and emails simply bounce.
So how can you create your own folder list?
The best is to take a piece of paper, and label the top 10 categories that you always deal with, making sure to always keep the following:
The other 6 can be tailored to your specifics. Once you have created these, search through all of your emails delegating and placing them into the folders.
The next step is vital before you can enjoy the empty white monitor space like this…
Any emails that you have inserted into things, action or anything sales related should be answered as soon as possible and dealt with, this way you are systematically digesting your email and task load one by one, until the important action emails are now settled into less priority folders whereby the action or email response is no longer required by you. This process may take some time, it will depend on how your current email management state is.
Once you have done this, you can take a break and enjoy your progress. It really does make you feel much better about your productivity, and that you can now plan on getting other things other than email done in a day.
Now to the tough one… Maintenance.
There are a few set rules to keep things under control, as it can become easy to simply move emails to folders and let them build up and get forgotten.
1. It is important to set a day each week, preferably at the end of the week to clear up the internal folders to backup or out of the priority action folders. This helps your efficiency of keeping emails moving and not keeping them as a storage bank. It also helps you to recap on how much you have achieved that week only through email, ready to start the next week with the same routine.
2. Before you leave work, or turn off your computer, make sure to go through any of the emails that have made their way into the inbox, and where not answered. The task is to simply delegate or quickly reply. I generally give myself not more than 20 minutes to get this done, and it works. When giving yourself a time frame to do something, you are able to focus and close tasks quickly.
3. When emails continue to come through, if an email can be answered quickly within a minute, do so, and close the task. The trick though is to not always leave your email open, and take silent hours during the day. Usually this can be 2-3 periods a day that are between 1-2 hours with email closed which tend to be in the morning, afternoon and evening. If you're like me, the emails I receive in the evening are the most challenging.
4. To limit your emails, try to label your subject lines to be clearer, not only does this help you to search for any emails in the backup folder if required, but is useful for labeling and communication to get a faster response from a client. This also includes limiting emails that are sent with just an "ok.", "thanks", "night" "great". These emails are distractions and serve no productivity help to your day or management.
5. If you want to dive into making your email creation less, you can dive into creating template emails, specifically for sales, details, information, process details etc. A great solution is Text Expander that allows you to create templates answers that you can customize quickly with using short cut keys. Check it out here: http://smilesoftware.com/TextExpander/index.html
If you can maintain a process daily, you will be able to maintain your new years resolution, and you will feel much healthier and less stressed by giving yourself daily productivity boosts from clearing your inbox and maintaining it.
Please comment below, and share any feedback or even your own email management process to keep your inbox to zero daily.