We live in the Age of Distraction. Every day we’re bombarded with breaking news, weather updates, social media posts, and all forms of advertising — and nowhere is this information overload more evident than in our email inbox.
If you feel overwhelmed when you open your inbox or are just tired of dealing with dozens and dozens of unread or urgent messages, what can you do to reduce the strain? The following information focuses on 7 ways that you can stay afloat on the rising tide of emails.
1. Hire an expert virtual assistant to handle your emails.
In many cases, this is your simplest and most effective option. Think of it as delegation par excellence.
The fact is, if you’re an entrepreneur, business owner, or corporate leader, then your schedule is already packed. You may be too busy dealing with other important tasks to stay on top of your incoming email messages. If that’s the case, then hiring a professional to handle your email management for you could make a lot of sense.
Of course, you’ll want to work with a virtual assistant that reduces your workload, not one that adds more stress and hassle to your life. Companies like Zirtual offer clients the opportunity to work with a dedicated, highly vetted VA. Some factors you may want to consider if you go the VA route include:
- Response time: How soon will your VA get back to you about assigned tasks?
- Quality: Will your VA stay on top of your email management, and respond appropriately to messages within your defined parameters?
- Security: Does the VA have the proper training and credentials to handle the proposed workload? Has he or she been vetted to handle personal or confidential information with the required level of care?
If the above questions can be answered to your satisfaction, then working with a virtual assistant may be the best way to cut down on your inbox’s clutter.
2. Figure out the root cause of your email overload.
This one might take a little bit of soul-searching. For example, could it be that you’ve fallen into the habit of answering your emails when you’re tired, or unable to concentrate? Regularly dealing with emails during times of low productivity can easily lead to “email burnout.” The solution may be to simply change the times at which you check your email.
Another possibility: are you getting bogged down in crafting long-form email replies? You may need to start thinking of email like a messaging service; in other words, try to write every email in five sentences or less. Compose your emails as if they were text messages.
Granted, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule by any means; but keeping your outgoing messages short and to-the-point can save quite a bit of time.
Here’s one other factor to consider: Are you easily distracted when sifting through your new messages? For example, is it common for you to click on an embedded link, which in turn takes you to a website, which in turn leads you to surf the Net for hours on end? Perhaps a renewed focus on self-discipline can help you to slowly chip away at your full inbox.
3. Organize your inbox.
There’s a guiding principle that has helped millions of entrepreneurs around the world to set the right priorities for their business. It’s known as the 80/20 rule — and [it applies to email organization] (https://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/11-simple-tips-effective-email-management.html) as well.
Basically, the rule states that 80% of outcomes result from 20% of causes. Here’s one way to think of this rule: out of 10 tasks that you have to handle on any given day, completing the two most important ones will help you to reach eight out of 10 goals that you have.
So how does this principle apply to email management? You should focus on the 20% of your incoming email messages that are most important to your professional (and personal) life. This may include emails from your business partners, networking opportunities, leads on potential clients… you get the idea. Then, once you’ve addressed the 20% you can start chipping away at the less critical 80%. In some cases, you may decide to not reply to a message in that category at all!
How can you set up your inbox to help you sift out the 20% from the 80%? Setting up a variety of folders is one option. For instance, you can name one folder “Leads,” another “Networking,” another “Invoices,” and yet another “Client Questions.” You just need to find out how many folders would be appropriate for your business, and how best to divide and subdivide your incoming mail.
With your mail neatly organized into different folders, it will be easier to prioritize your 20% mail without losing track of the 80% messages.
4. Try an inbox management tool.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to sort through your inbox unaided, then consider trying out an inbox management tool. There are a ton of options on the market that can help you to sort, prioritize, and filter your email.
For instance, SaneBox works with any email client to create new folders. When a new message arrives in your inbox, SaneBox’s algorithm (based on your past interactions with your inbox) will determine whether to keep the message in your primary inbox or move it to a folder like “SaneLater” that can be checked at another time. Later on, you’ll receive a summary of the emails sent to the SaneBox folders so that you can determine whether any of them need your attention.
In addition, SaneBox has a folder called “SaneBlackHole” that enables you to simultaneously delete emails and unsubscribe from them — a huge time-saver if you deal with a lot of spammy email on a daily basis.
5. Set aside two times per day to check email.
Syncing features and other forms of modern technology have allowed email to intrude into our lives 24/7. However, just because you’re able to receive email alerts at any time doesn’t mean you have to. In fact, experts in effective email management generally recommend that you check your emails only a few times a day.
The fact is, constantly receiving and checking email messages can greatly reduce your productivity in other (more important) areas of life. Chris Casarez, the co-founder of Exact Latitude, put it this way:
“You know what can sometimes be better than checking your email? Not checking it… Personally, I avoid checking my email more than twice or three times a day at dedicated times and it is often just to sort the urgent/important communication from the rest. My core email time is the morning, before I even come into the office, so as not to distract from the strategic goals I have for the day.”
You may even want to give senders a heads up about your two-times-a-day process by setting up an automatic reply, like this one cited by Tim Ferriss:
“Due to high workload, I am currently checking and responding to e-mail twice daily at 12:00pm ET [or your time zone] and 4:00pm ET.
If you require urgent assistance (please ensure it is urgent) that cannot wait until either 12:00pm or 4:00pm, please contact me via phone at 555-555-5555.”
6. Turn off email notifications.
In conjunction with point #5 mentioned above, sometimes you just have to disconnect from the world of email — at least temporarily. Many email services will send you an instant email alert every time you receive a new message, either over your desktop or mobile device. This makes it all too easy to get distracted by unimportant emails and lose your concentration on the task at hand.
To combat this tendency, you may want to disable all audio and visual notifications from your email service. This doesn’t have to be a hassle; for instance, Boomerang is a Gmail plugin that allows users to “pause” their inbox whenever they need a break. Users can stop receiving emails for indefinite amounts of time, or schedule regular periods of activity and inactivity. They can also make exceptions for messages from certain people or businesses that are important to them.
7. Write templates and store them in an email template tool for instant use.
Even if you receive a lot of mail that doesn’t warrant a reply, odds are that you also receive messages that require a timely response. Still, it can be tedious to write a ton of email replies, especially if typing is not your strong suit, or you’re basically writing the same thing dozens of times.
Template replies may offer a solution to this problem. By investing a little bit of time upfront in developing email response templates, you’ll make it a cinch to quickly reply to routine messages.
Email management software can help you in this regard. For example, Yesware is an email management program that provides, among many other features, personal templates that allow users to quickly craft appropriate email replies. Yesware can be easily integrated with third-party apps, bills annually, and is available for $12 per user/month.
Implement the above suggestions to eliminate email overload.
Email management can be tricky, but with some planning, and assistance from the right people, you can cut the clutter and organize the chaos. Remember that while email is an important form of communication in today’s plugged-in world, it can also be a huge distraction and time-waster. By organizing your inbox, disciplining yourself to check email at specific times throughout the day, and perhaps hiring a qualified virtual assistant, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of email without suffering from burnout.
Isn’t that what we all want?