When working with clients on the Time Management and Productivity front, the one issue everyone seems to have is email overload. Too many emails, too much time needed to handle it and people expecting a reply within two nanoseconds.
The bad news is this: clearly email is a part of our lives and here to stay. The good news is: there are ways to mitigate the impact it has on our lives. So here are four techniques you can use right now to start winning the battle.
Write Shorter Emails
It is logical that the shorter the email, the less time you need to write it. With this in mind, I have a little rule: I reply to emails (usually) in under 5 sentences. This means I need less time to write it and the recipient needs less time to read it. Simples 😉
I also try to use bullet points as often as possible when writing emails. It can be confusing when you receive an email covering several points, and it is all written essay style. It takes more time to read (and write) than a bullet pointed email. The other advantage of this practice is that the recipient is more likely to actually answer all points! How many times have you sent an email with several questions, only to receive a reply covering only a few? Which then means you have to write another email (spending more time) to ask those same questions again!
Use Template Replies
How often have you had to write the same (or similar) reply / new message to several different people over a period of time? I bet this happens more often than you realise! This could be people asking you the same question to which you write the same reply. Or a message you always write when sending out invoices via email. Or the message you write to a prospective client accompanying your proposal. There are so many of these types of emails that we write over and over – and it takes a lot of time.
Several years ago, I started using “template emails”. These are messages I use over and over. I create a Word Document for each such message and keep it all in one folder on my desktop (called Standard Mails). Whenever I need to send such an email, I open the appropriate document and copy and paste the message. All that remains are a few quick edits and to hit the send button. This saves me a great deal of time every day.
One thing that drives me absolutely crazy is when someone sends me an email, and if I haven’t replied within two minutes, they send another – “Did you get my previous mail?!”. And if I still don’t reply within a few minutes, a third email follows. So by the time I check emails, I have 44 emails from the same person, asking the same question! Really!? Firstly, I think people need to calm down. There isn’t a mail in the world that requires an answer within minutes. If it is that urgent, pick up the phone and make a call. But that is a topic for a whole different blog…
Anyway, I think we need to manage people’s expectations when it comes to email. I have often used an “Out of Office” auto reply to do exactly this. The reply could state that you will check and respond to email at 12 noon every day, or that you only check emails three times a day etc. This message will hopefully have the desired effect on the recipient: keep calm; I’ll get to your email in due course.
Why Not Outsource?
It can be daunting to try to handle 4275 new emails every day (and still remain sane). Many emails in your inbox can probably be deleted or merely filed away (for future reference). Not all emails need a response. And not all emails needing a response, needs it from you!
So why not outsource your inbox? A good VA (virtual assistant) can take care of most of your emails, leaving you to deal with only a select few. You could create two new folders in your inbox: “Today” and “This Week”. Your VA can then sort all incoming mail accordingly, meaning you only have to look at these two folders and deal with the emails therein. Several of my clients have been using this system very successfully with their VAs. Oh, and remember those email templates I mentioned earlier? You could of course give your VA access to those and have him / her reply on your behalf too!
Using any or all of these techniques with your emails will save you a great deal of time. It also reduces stress and overwhelm. And overall, you will be more effective and productive. Win!