Personal Branding

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How to Beat the **** Out of Your Inbox!


Email in Inbox

It’s probably the number one time-drain for entrepreneurs all around the world. Yet, email is about as required today as having a fax machine was in the late 80’s and early 90’s. When it comes to communication, your Inbox is where the party’s at, lets face it…

However, email – and particularly your Inbox, doesn’t have to be the pain in the ass that it is for a lot of busy business owners and 9-5 escapee-wannabe’s! It’s simply about putting systems and processes in place to make sure you don’t get sucked into email doom on a daily basis.

When I was in the process of becoming a Virtual CEO last year, I had a lot of mini-goals that I incorporated into my one-year long goal of escaping my desk on a daily basis. These mini-goals were basically monthly goals and sometimes I’d have to hit several within a one-month period to stay on track.

Rewind to January 2010

In that first month, I set out to remove myself from as many email commitments as possible. The main reason behind this decision was that if I truly wanted to become that Virtual CEO, I had a lot of work and planning ahead of me. I simply wasn’t going to be able to achieve everything I needed to, if I was stuck in front of Outlook all day!

So, I took myself out of as many ‘copy me in’ threads as possible. Everything from my HR team (except management issues), my IT team (except emergencies) and my Operations team (except for a couple of key clients). It worked. I went from spending 4 hours a day on email to around 1-2 hours, depending on the day (Monday is usually a little heavier than most for me).

Moving Email to the Cloud

Nowadays I’m cloud based, and handle all my email via the Gmail platform. This was another move I made last year, around April, which enabled me to become more mobile as a business owner. The ability to check, reply and ‘file’ email from any device I own, or any other computer for that matter, just became golden, and I never see myself going back to a one-device email set-up, such as Outlook, or Mail for the Mac.

But, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I am going to remain super-productive when it comes to battling my Inbox, does it? Of course not. So, I’ve had to put several guidelines and processes in place to make sure that happens.

My 6 Golden Email Rules

Now we get down to the focus of this post. The following guidelines; rules; processes, whatever you want to call them, are not, by any means final, nor irreplaceable, neither are they going to work for everyone out there. However, if you’re a new-age entrepreneur, traveling business owner or small online business boss, believe me – trying them out might just make your life a little easier – and productive.

One Click Rule

This is about as simple as it sounds. When an email lands in my Inbox, I open it and with one click do one of the following:

  • Reply
  • Delete
  • Archive

If you open the email and then go onto another email you’re only going to have to come back to the first one at some point. Why bother yourself? It takes time, it’s irritating and it simply doesn’t make sense to me.

Three Sentence Rule

For any of you who might have corresponded with me via email, you would have seen the following email signature when I’ve replied to you (if not, feel free to email me):

The link takes you to a page where you can find out why I answer all of my emails using no more than three sentences. The simple reason behind this is that it enables me to answer my emails properly, yet in a polite and productive manner.

I’m more of a talker than a typer anyway, and so my rule is that if I can’t give a reasonable answer to a question, or a piece of info someone needs within three sentences, then I pick up the phone. The only exception to this rule is business proposals, if need be.

Eliminate Yourself from Email Threads

This will affect some people more than others. But, if you have a lot of people working for/with you within your company set-up, then the chances are that you can probably get your number of daily emails down quite considerably, just like I did, by removing yourself from certain email threads.

Start Using a Project Management System

Using something like Basecamp to work with people on a daily basis, whether they are within your company structure, or not, enables you to cut your Inbox load down even further.

It does mean, obviously, that you’ll be handling messages, updates, etc., from another platform, so you’ll have to balance out things and see whether it will work for you. Bottom line – try it. If it works, great. If not, nothing ventured, nothing gained…

Unsubscribe from Mailing Lists

We are all guilty of this. We see a shiny eBook that we want, or a video course we want to check out. They are free – but, you need to opt-in. This sticks you on someone’s mailing list, however, which means you will get email from him or her regularly (some more than others, obviously).

My rule on this was to remove myself from all of the mailing lists I was on, except for my five favorite bloggers. It was a simple process to undertake. I simply waited for an email to arrive, figured out whether I still wanted to receive messages from the owner of the list, or not, and hit the ‘unsubscribe’ link more often, than not.

Don’t Use Your Inbox as a To-Do List

A lot of people I know make this mistake. And I mean a LOT! This is mad. Think about it – if your Inbox is also your To-Do List, then, as a busy ‘idea a minute’ entrepreneur, you will never clear your Inbox. EVER.

Just the action of leaving the message in there, regardless of what color you flag it, or what nice label you give it, goes against you and your productivity levels. Get your ‘To-Do’ items out of your Inbox and put them somewhere else.

Some ideas of ways to manage your To-Do List could be as follows:

  • A notepad
  • An iPad (as I use now. App – ‘Things‘)
  • An iPhone (or other smart phone)
  • Post-It Notes (I used to use this)
  • Index cards
  • Excel Sheets

Starting Kicking the *** Out of your Inbox, Now!

As you can see, I attack my Inbox in a number of different ways. What matters the most here, more than anything else, is that it works for me. I mean, when you go from 4 hours a day stuck in an email-jam, to an average of an hour or so, that’s killer. That’s game-changing, for ANY entrepreneur.

What are you doing to cut down email and become more productive? Let me know in the comments, below. And… ReTweet’s of this particular post are really appreciated! Thanks.

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