Coach to Creatives

The Clarity Journal

Tactics, Tools, and Truth for Creative Entrepreneurs

4 Reasons You Can't Get Your E-mail Under Control

You may know that I dabble as an Instagram personality, and in so doing I occasionally share not only cute/weird/“somebody send help” videos of my kids, but also things that I’m working on in my business. Of all of the things I have ever shared on Instagram, I get the most comments, questions, and OMGs about having zero e-mails in my inbox. Anytime I show my empty inbox to Instagram, the DMs start rolling in.

“Inbox zero?!? How can you do that?!” “Are you some kind of wizard?!” “You should see my inbox…10,000 and going strong!”

I think we can all agree that your life would be better, maybe even easier, if you had zero emails in your inbox rather than the hundreds, or thousands, that you have right now. But, with all of the demands on your time, how on earth can you do this once, let alone consistently?

Here are four reasons you can’t get your inbox under control (and what you should do about it).

You Aren’t Processing E-mail

It’s possible that you are reading your email without actually processing your email. This would be the equivalent of taking a stack of mail, reading it all, and then putting it all back into the mailbox.

Processing your e-mail requires you to read each message and ask yourself the following question: do I need to DO something in response to this message? If no? Archive or file it. If yes? Either do it now, delay it, or delegate it. 

Processing your e-mail is most efficient when done at specific times that are designated for e-mail. I process e-mail at least once per day and commit to getting all the way down to zero once per week (during my Weekly Review). My husband, who gets significantly more e-mail than I do, has three different times in the work week where he is committed to processing e-mail to inbox zero. 

You Don’t Have a Task Management System

Your email inbox is not your to-do list. Your email inbox is NOT your to-do list. Your E-MAIL INBOX is NOT your TO-DO LIST.

In my unscientific opinion, the #1 reason people get backed up on email is that they don’t have another system to keep track of their tasks. You can’t delete your e-mails if you don’t have any other record of the to-dos associated with those e-mails.

For example: my clients send me homework and financial reports to review prior to my work sessions with them. When they e-mail these to me, it’s my cue that I need to prepare for the session. But, I don’t leave the e-mail in the inbox to remind me to prep; I save the files in Evernote and put “prepare for session with Claire” in my Omnifocus. Bye bye extraneous e-mail. I can always search for you if I need you again.

In order to process your emails this way, you need a task management system that you actively use and really trust. The technology you choose is completely a matter of preference; there are a ton of good apps out there, such as Asana, Omnifocus, Trello, Wunderlist, and more. Whether you use a formal app or do it the old fashioned way with a pen and paper, you need a system that you regularly maintain and that you trust enough to be able to archive those e-mails.

You Need to Be Less Available

When you are first starting out in business, there isn’t much risk in making yourself readily available to customers, prospective customers, business partners, employees, industry contacts, and anyone else you may come across in the course of doing business. However, there may come a point when you need to constrain the number of people that have access to you and the ways that you can be reached. 

I have a client who sells digital products across multiple platforms, and her biggest source of frustration right now is that she doesn’t feel like she can get back to everyone that is contacting her. We counted, and there are five or six different ways that customers have access to her, including e-mail, and the current expectation that the company has set is that each person will receive a response.

If you feel like your e-mail is out of control, it may be that you have made yourself available in a way that isn’t sustainable for the long-term. You need to decide who has access to you for what types of requests, and adjust your personal and company practices to reflect those decisions. Some examples of these adjustments could include:

  • Creating a more robust FAQ section of your website.

  • Creating a Facebook group where customers can ask each other questions about your product or service instead of asking you directly.

  • Creating auto-responders or template responses for common inquiries instead of crafting personalized responses.

  • Empowering your team to make decisions independently without having to send you countless single-line e-mails with “FYI” or “Thoughts?”

  • Asking your team to reserve questions or discussion topics for pre-determined meeting times instead of through e-mail.

You Need to Get Help

If you do the above three things faithfully and you still have a significant backlog of e-mail, you may need some administrative help in this area. Depending on the nature of your business, this could be an executive assistant that is focused on supporting you or a team member who is focused on customer communication and support. Or, maybe both.

An effective Executive Assistant can act as an extension of you, managing your incoming e-mails, responding to the ones that he can, and organizing the ones that require a personal response from you. That way you are only seeing and responding to the e-mails that you need to see, and not all of the other noise that someone else can easily handle.

Do You Need to Declare E-mail Bankruptcy?

When you aren’t in control of your inbox, your business suffers. You might be so far behind on e-mail that you need to hit the reset button. Process the most recent 100-200 e-mails in your inbox and delete the rest. Sometimes a fresh start is what is needed to make a big change.

Do you get a lot of e-mail? How do you manage it?

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