We are in the thick of the information age. Most likely, the volume of information coming at us will keep accelerating. Already it feels overwhelming, and tends to pull our focus off what’s really important. It’s not just spam that’s overflowing our inboxes. Our own procrastination, perfectionism and “bright shiny object syndrome” keep us overloaded with input.
To stay sane – and operate a profitable coaching business – good email habits are crucial. Excellent response times build credibility with colleagues, coaching prospects and clients. Besides, it just feels better to stay on top of email.
The goal is a “zero tolerance” inbox, and the key strategy is one touch for each email. Of course, that isn’t always possible, but if you start with that intention you’ll be surprised how efficient you become. Imagine cleaning out your inbox every day! And why not? You can get there with these simple steps:
1. Start with a clean slate. Put aside enough time to completely empty your email inbox. While you’re doing this, ask yourself whether the email lists you are on are really serving you, and unsubscribe where the answer is no.
Then, commit to aiming for zero emails in your inbox at the end of the day. You can allow a few to sit there overnight, but give yourself a limit (no more than ten) that you will not exceed. Make sure your mindset is to VALUE YOUR TIME HIGHLY.
2. Set up useful folders in your email program to keep info organized. Use your folders to store any email you might want to reference later. (If you are using Gmail, you can apply the same approach to your “labels”.)
Be selective about your folders and what you put in them. These are some of the email folders I have right now:
Autoresponders – Copies of any autoresponders that go out for my freebies or products. I always put myself on my own lists. I have another folder for my ezines and other email blasts.
Clients – Anything important that clients send me goes in here. I often print these out for my physical file too. I also keep a sub-folder for client templates, like my Welcome Packet email.
Drafts – I drop into this folder anything that I will need to come back to later. That way it stays on my radar, but not in my face. (Note: If you do this, Habit #7 is mandatory!)
Marketing ideas – Any marketing idea such as a sales letter or email marketing approach I might want to emulate later.
Sent – Important emails to my clients or team get pulled into the relevant sub-folder. Otherwise, I let my sent emails stay in here. I have set the folder properties to automatically delete anything that’s more than 3 years old.
Team – Emails to or from my VA / team members that need saving. I have sub-folders for each team member. This helps me evaluate their performance as well as keeps me organized about what they are doing or what I requested from them.
Testimonials – Praise, compliments, testimonials. I mine these for marketing.
When setting up your folders, remember that your email program can automatically filter incoming mail into the appropriate folder. This can be a great tool to lighten up your inbox – but don’t overdo it. Remember that any time you use a filter, you need a regular habit of checking the folder it points to.
3. Set certain times to check email. I favor first thing in the morning, midday and before leaving the office. Your intention is to get to zero in your inbox each session.
To minimize distractions, turn off that cute little sound that notifies you each time a new email arrives. When you’re not checking your mail, keep your email application minimized and out of view. And there’s no need for your program to check for new mail more often than every 15 minutes or so.
By the way, please DO NOT set up one of those annoying notices that you’re reducing how often you check email. It fills people’s inboxes with information they don’t need.
4. Get it out of your court! Respond to whatever you can during your email session. Keep it brief, and let go of any extremely high standards. If you can’t answer succinctly and directly, respond that it’s best to cover the topic in a session or a quick call. Resist the temptation to over-deliver in emails with clients. Only over-deliver on something that can leveraged into a template, article, product or workshop later.
Priorities for response are:
- Keeping your VA / team in action
- Client service
- Keeping prospects warm & interested / replying to opportunities
- Curiosity / bright shiny objects
5. Create a system for social networking emails. I respond each time I check email, because I’m using social networking to build my business. But if it works better for you to keep all those until the end of the day, do that. This could be a good place to set up a folder and filter.
6. Be ruthless with the delete key. It’s not just for obvious junk. If you must keep something that raises your curiosity but doesn’t require action, put it in your Drafts folder to finish later. Resist the impulse to investigate all info and opportunities. Most are not the best use of your time right now.
7. Do weekly Drafts folder maintenance. Never let your Drafts folder get over 25 emails. Review your Drafts folder on Thursday or Friday each week. Usually I find I can eliminate more than half in seconds, because I’m over whatever had me save the darn thing in the first place! Whatever is left, either respond to immediately or plan into a high payoff action time in your calendar.
8. Once a month, clean out your email folders. I like to do this on flights, at the hair salon or on a Friday morning before I take the rest of the day off.
A note about keeping everything. There is a growing school of thought that, since most of us have more data storage than we need, we never really have to delete anything. Once it’s marked as read (or moved out of the inbox), we can just keep it all, and use “Search” to find whatever we’re looking for. Gmail (Google’s webmail service) is built around this philosophy.
I use this approach for some folders, including Sent. But for folders that I actively use in my business, I prefer to be able to scan down the contents and see only data that I have saved for a reason.
Go ahead and use the “keep everything” method where it works for you – but don’t use it as an excuse to avoid getting organized.
Remember, the zero tolerance inbox is a process, not an outcome. Stay on top of it. And enjoy the peace of mind that comes with a clean inbox!