Ever feel like email is taking over your life or dictating your working day? Here is how to get your inbox back under control!
Email is the probably the most important business communication tool, and unavoidable in working life today. In the fast-paced world of events, there seems to be a never ending stream of urgent emails demanding your immediate attention, especially nearing the time of the event. Before you chuck your computer out of the window, here are some easy tricks you can learn to master your inbox, and modern tools to help you do it faster.
- Differentiate Professional and Personal
If you’re working freelance, you may be using your personal email address to deal with work. That might have been fine when you started out, but it doesn’t help if your inbox is a big mess of personal, professional, newsletters and spam emails. Keeping your personal life and your professional affairs separate will give you a clearer view of your work.
Even if you work solo, consider investing in a professional website and email address to match the domain. Many perceive this as more professional than working through a personal email account and it helps to develop your personal brand more strongly.
- Filter your Newsletters
It is handy to hit subscribe to a new newsletter as soon as you discover a blog or website that looks interesting, but you don’t always have time to browse through the content when life gets busy. This can result in dozens of random newsletters landing in your inbox daily, the majority of which you will immediately trash, thinking you will read the next one when you have more time.
Gaining new knowledge and staying informed is essential in our fast-changing industry, but to be productive this should be dedicated to a specific time that suits you. Depending on your email provider, you can set rules to automatically divert specific emails to a designated folder, which you can then check when your agenda allows.
An event planner’s time is short, too short to waste time on spam so hit unsubscribe if you receive anything you didn’t opt in to or if your preferences have changed. Unroll.Me is a wonderful tool that will list all the subscriptions linked to your email address so you identify and unsubscribe from all unnecessary communications in a flash or choose to have them delivered within one single email per day.
- Don’t Use Your Emails as Storage
Emails are only a tool and should not be used to store your important files. Get into the habit of saving important documents as they are received to your computer or the cloud. You can create folders within your inbox to organise your emails more effectively, but attachments such as contracts, floorplans, quotes and project planning information, should be saved and filed appropriately.
- Aim for your Inbox to be Always Empty
Finishing your day with “inbox zero” is psychologically positive and can help to clear your mind. Even if you have not replied to all emails, if you are on top of what has been going on and have neatly classified them in the right folders to be addressed later it can help you switch off at the end of the day. It is essential in the days leading up to an event, and especially during an event, to be aware of every communication and last minute change and to react as quickly as possible. Sorting your new emails by order of priority will give you a clear view of your next steps.
- Template Emails Should Be Your Friend
Often there are a number of emails you send on a regular basis. This could be requesting quotes from suppliers, sending an enquiry to a venue, chasing information, issuing invoices, etc. If you repeat the same or similar emails every day prepare some template emails and keep them to hand. It will be quicker to adapt this canned text for sending rather than writing a new email each time.
- Keep it Formal
Now that most people work from their smartphones, emails are becoming more informal and sometimes more closely resemble text messaging than formal business communication. Even if you want to keep it brief try to keep business emails professional. Text speak and abbreviations are never acceptable and countless short and meaningless exchanges are disruptive and ineffective.
- Pick Up the Phone
If you notice that a conversation is endless and not productive, or that there seem to be misunderstandings, it is sometimes easier just to pick up the phone and deal with it with a quick conversation. Time is a precious and mistakes are costly. It can be easy to misconstrue the meaning of an email and some things are better communicated with the spoken word. Most importantly this email philosophy encourages your clients, suppliers and colleagues to be smarter about email communications as well. Perhaps you have a weekly phone call or meeting already scheduled with the client? If so try to gather all questions, ideas and things to check into one list to discuss at this specific time and minimize the need for emails outside of the scheduled conversation time.
- Recognize Emails for What They Are
Emails should not be confused with work or over-relied on to define the outcomes of your day. Recognize that although emails are generally an essential part of your working life, generally time spent emailing is not earning you any money or getting through your growing workload. Don’t use emails to speak to or allocate tasks to your team or for checklists, there are countless apps and other tools better dedicated to that. Emails should be a communication means to an end. You can still send or forward emails to your task app, providing it supports emails, and you can then organize your tasks there. Evernote and Todoist are some of the apps that support emailed tasks.
- Sort your Emails
If you’re organizing several events and/or work with many different providers and clients, it might be easier to keep emails relating to the same theme together, so you can focus on one topic at a time. If you reply to your emails in chronological order, you will jump from one topic to another and lose time refocusing each time you move to a new topic. Use your email provider’s settings to label your emails automatically or send them to designated folders. You can then easily organize your day by working topic by topic, checking the relevant emails at the right time, when you are already focused on that topic.
- Make your Search Easier
If it is inevitable that you continue using your inbox as a search tool, at least try maximizing your chances of tracking down the specific email you need. Include relevant keywords within the subject line and body of your email and flag important messages for future reference.
- Limit Email Time
Countless successful people limit the amount of time they spend on emails to set times per day and shut down their inbox at all other times. Try checking your email at the start of the day, at lunch time and at the end of the day to avoid getting distracted from your priorities. If that level ofself discipline sends shivers down your spine try checking for emails just once per hour. For some the ultimate sin is to ensure that they don’t check emails first thing in the morning, or at least not before they have planned out their to do list and goals for the day ahead.
At the very least remove the ping or notifications when an email arrives so it doesn’t distract you from whatever you are working on. Of course it is good to respond to emails promptly but replying the minute an email lands with you can look a bit needy!
- Keyboard Shortcuts
Whatever email provider you use learning some keyboard shortcuts can shave minutes off the time you spend on emails each day. Look up and learn by heart the most useful ones and it will become second nature in no time at all.
- Respond Promptly
It is easy for email messages to quickly slip down your inbox with the amount of emails most people deal with in a single day. Make sure you respond promptly or at least acknowledge an email and give a timescale for when you can deal with it as a matter of courtesy. Some email tools enable you to set a reminder to follow up on an email at a particular time or date.
- Don’t Copy People in Unnecessarily
Be respectful of your colleagues and think carefully before you copy someone into an email. You may think you are “keeping them in the loop” but if they have to dig through oodles of information to find something relevant to them it isn’t the best use of anyone’s time. Keep them off the email circulation and feed back directly what is important for them to know.
- On the Go
There are several inbox apps on the market, so don’t think you are stuck with the default app. An alternative app might suit you much better. It is worth experimenting until you find the app that suits your email style.
- Out of Office
If you are out of the office for more than a day or two it is generally good protocol to switch on your out of office. Not only does this work to notify others of a delay in your response but it can often stop people from chasing you up by phone or social media at those times where you are not available.
- Don’t Email Out of Hours
In this super connected world it can feel like you need to be available 24/7 and it is easy to fall into the habit of checking your phone after hours. Even if you are happy or feel the need to do this try to resist sending emails at ridiculous times of the night. Regularly sending emails at midnight to a client could be seen as desperate, disorganized or give the impression that it is fine to contact you at any hour! Hold off pressing send until the morning or even schedule it to send automatically at a more acceptable time so you can forget about it.
- Email Footers
Email footers are often underutilized but can be a really useful marketing opportunity. You should always include your key contact information in your footer (phone number/Skype ID and ideally a mobile number) and including social media contacts are also a great way to connect. Promote your forthcoming events, link to your blog, share your latest company news or whitepaper too.
Email is an indisputable tool for event planners but it can sometimes be a real source of stress and panic if not managed in an efficient way. By taking some time to declutter your inbox on the one hand, and learning how to prioritize and operate your communications more efficiently on the other, you can really capitalize on this wonderful (ancient!) technology.
What are your tricks to stay on top of your emails and not get overwhelmed? We would love to hear in the comments below.
(Social Coup LLC)