As a small business owner, time is precious. It’s likely you’re the one running the show or you have a relatively small team helping you.
One of the biggest struggles for entrepreneurs and career-oriented humans is the obsession with checking email. All. Day. Long.
While that may be okay (it’s really not) for a nine-to-fiver, it’s not okay for someone trying to build and grow a business. And, if we are being completely honest, it’s not okay for ANYONE to spend 6 hours a day checking email.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of it too.
BUT you know what I’ve also caught myself doing?
Complaining that there just isn't enough time in the day to get everything done.
The truth is I’ve got the hours and so do you. The problem is the constant distraction that is email. But you can’t just ignore your inbox, right? The world would basically come to an end. While there is a lot of useless junk mail that eats up unnecessary amounts of time, your inbox does get a lot of valuable and important incoming mail from leads, clients, etc.
So how do you effectively manage your inbox while not letting it consume your entire day?
Step One: Turn Off Notifications
Yes, I’m being completely serious. Turn off notifications for your inbox. While this won’t solve your problem completely, it will certainly help.
See, when we receive push notifications on our phones, tablets, or computers, dopamine (the happy stuff) is released. Giving in to the distraction decreases our ability to do deep work. You can read more about this here.
Step Two: Schedule Time For Email Batches
Batching has been proven time and time again to increase productivity. You can read about one woman’s experience with batching over here.
In a nutshell, batching is grouping similar tasks together to avoid the infamous productivity killer - multitasking. Instead of checking your email randomly throughout the day (this is where turning off your notifications comes in handy) set aside certain times of the day to deal with your inbox. For example at 8am, 11am, and 4pm for 20 minutes each session. While you are still spending an hour a day in your inbox, that’s significantly less than the average 6 hours.
Step Three: Unsubscribe From Distractions
You’re probably wondering how in the world you’re going to get through your ENTIRE inbox in an hour a day.
There is just TOO MUCH to sort through.
Well, how much of what you’re sorting through is junk?
I bet if you sat down right now and went through your inbox you would see a good number of emails are promotional/sales emails and updates from vendors/businesses you don’t even use. Some may be valuable to you like, for instance, your subscription to your newsletter but many are just cluttering your digital and mental space.
In fact, my challenge to you is to spend 20 minutes right now (okay after you finish reading this blog) going through your inbox and unsubscribing from the emails that have no value to you. Purge the clutter!
Step Four: Create Filters, Folders, and Labels
My favorite email platform to use by far is Gmail. It’s easy to navigate, nice to look at, and the filter and folder possibilities are endless.
One of the easiest changes to make is to change the emails you see first. In Gmail, go to Settings > Inbox > Inbox Type and select the option that works best for you. I personally like to view unread emails first.
From there, I recommend adding labels like “Today”, “Tomorrow”, and “This Week”. This transforms your inbox into a to-do list. The best thing about labels is their visibility. Unlike folders, labels can be seen inside your inbox instead of in the sidebar.
Filters and folders are wonderful tools for managing projects and clients. For example, a filter can be created to move all emails coming from your client Zoe Scott will automatically go into a folder labeled after her company Creative Media Solutions.
This removes an entire step in sorting your email and now you can choose when you want to look at different projects. Filters are also an effective way for managing invoices, receipts, and other documentation that regularly floods your inbox.
Step Five: Act On It
If an email comes in and requires you to respond, send a document, or can be resolved with a quick phone call, do it right away. Anything that can be handled in less than a couple of minutes, should be knocked out ASAP. This frees up your headspace to tackle the more complicated and/or time-consuming requests.
Creating an organizational system for your unique inbox takes time and lots of trial and error. You may find that you need different labels, no filters, and checking your email for 10 minutes 4 times a day works best for you. There is no one-size fits all formula. The important thing to focus on is working intentionally and getting more done during the workday.
When first starting out with a virtual assistant, handing over the email inbox is often the first step. It allows the entrepreneur to collaborate with the assistant and the assistant learns A LOT from the business just by reading emails.