Running a business means managing a never ending to do list. For better or for worse email is part of running a vibrant business, and functions as a never ending, incredibly annoying, and often daunting list all its own. Effectively managing your business means managing your email. Fortunately, there are some great strategies and tools that you can utilize to make email less painful and more productive. “Email Zero” is our phrase and ultimate goal in our approach to email. Sound impossible? It’s not! So sit down, open your inbox and let’s get this done!
Create a email policy. Whether you are a solo business owner or have an office full of employees, setting an email policy for your business establishes both boundaries and expectations. We believe in great customer service but we certainly don’t believe that instant email responses are a good way to establish that service. Draft an email policy that you and your employees feel best meets the ethos of the company. For example, if your company promises same day shipping on orders make sure your email policy requires that all shipping related emails be dealt with as they come in.
Unsubscribe. Get yourself off email distribution lists that you don’t need. Do you really need four emails a day that you never check from the same online news magazine? Remove yourself from as many lists as you can. Start clearing out the clutter so you can focus on the good stuff. If haven’t heard of it, check out Unroll.me.
Schedule. Set aside a time during your day or week to deal with email and stick to it. Do not immediately return customer emails unless it is vital. If it is really vital, they will call. At our firm we deal with emails in the morning and in the late afternoon, if there is time. No midday emails, no late night emails and definitely no weekend emails. Reserve the workday for substantive work, not emails.
Download extensions. Depending on what email client you use (we use Gmail) you can add certain extensions or programs that can make your inbox much easier to deal with. We can not recommend Boomerang for Gmail enough. It allows you to schedule when your email gets sent, and will return or “boomerang” email back to you after a certain period of time so you can deal with the email when the timing is better. We often use Boomerang to get ahead of our scheduled email time by working on emails during the weekend but scheduling them to go out on Monday morning. Also check out the “canned responses” feature in Gmail. The extension lets you draft and save template emails that you can use to respond to frequent emails on the same topic quickly.
Set a “do or delete” timeframe. Often an email will come in that has an interesting issue we want to write a blog piece about or deal with in a more intensive manner. These types of emails are great idea generators and also great inbox destroyers. Set a rule: if you can’t address the email the way you want to in a week or ten days it gets deleted. Trust us, more will come.
Stop using labels and folders. Unless your company, organization or position requires that you retain all email correspondence for record keeping or liability purposes, stop using labels or folders to organize your inbox. Remember, the goal here is “Inbox Zero”, not “inbox to be dealt with sometime next week.” Using labels and folders just delays dealing with the email. So do yourself a favor and just deal with the email! One touch and done.
Create a FAQ or blog post dealing with common questions or issues. Spend some time and draft an answer “database” that you can refer customers or clients to. Combined with the canned responses extension, you can create a wide variety of email responses that can deal with the client or customer’s issue or question quickly and efficiently.
And finally, remove work email from your personal phone. We get it – you want to be available to your employees and clients. But you also need to be available for your friends, family and most importantly, yourself. So do yourself a favor and remove work email from your phone. In our experience it forces us to concentrate more on email during our scheduled time, instead of constantly feeling overwhelmed by emails all day, everyday.
Email Zero is yours for the taking. Now go out and do it!
Jeff Mohrmann is the founder and managing attorney of Rogue Mountain Law, LLC, a Colorado law firm that focuses on business law, bankruptcy and estate planning. When Jeff isn’t helping new businesses launch with success he can be found on the trails and slopes of Colorado. An avid cyclist, runner and snowboarder, he has competed throughout the country in a variety of running races and organizes everything from fundraising fun runs to beer marathons in his home town.