I wrote about 5 Tools to Spend Less Time on Email and More Time Being Creative last week and got some amazing feedback and a lot of questions about how I managed to bring my email time down to 30-60 minutes per day.
So I decided to do a deep dive and show you exactly what I do to eliminate what Jeff Walker calls “the entrepreneur’s OCD loop”.
When I used to work in my corporate job, most of my days were spent checking and responding to email. That’s why I loved my business development days outside the office because I could not get distracted by email.
It always seemed to me that the people who got promoted were the ones who stayed in their inbox the longest in the evening.
Why the Email Disease Kills Your Business
As a business owner, checking email all day long has a little side effect called “no new clients” which can put you out of business very quickly.
Spending our days in our email inbox as business owners is probably the most unproductive thing we can do.
Getting out of the inbox is even harder if you have worked in the corporate world where checking email seems to be a competition.
It’s not one I want to win.
Fortunately, I have been able to create a structure for myself in my business that has worked phenomenally well.
I never spend more than 30-60 minutes per day in my email inbox. That alone has made a big difference to my bottom line and level of sanity.
Getting Out of Your Inbox
One of the most important changes I made was to schedule dedicated time for email.
Every day, from 3:30pm to 4:00pm, I have scheduled time for email in my calendar. There is no other time during the day that I have my email inbox open.
If I need to send an email or connect two people with each other, I simply do it through Contactually and do not open my email inbox.
By stacking certain activities, we immediately get more productive.
If we constantly switch between checking email, writing an article, making phone calls and being carried away by Facebook updates, we end up at 5pm without getting anything done.
If we focus 30-60 minutes on a very specific activity like managing email, we don’t waste energy by shifting focus and are immediately 10x more productive.
But What If an Urgent Email Comes in When I’m Not in My Inbox?
I have never seen an urgent email that could not wait at least a few hours. Sure, if you work in the monitoring team at the nuclear power plant, it’s useful to react quickly.
However, I believe that’s not the case for most of us.
One of my mastermind buddies owns a very successful web design firm who deals with high-end clients. She used to spend all day on her email, working at least 12 hours per day, 7 days a week, mostly in her inbox.
She constantly used to check and respond to every email that came in so she had zero time for anything else.
At some point, she was so close to a burnout that she was forced to take a few weeks off from her business.
When she came back, she decided to follow my advice and only check email twice a day, in the morning and before dinner. It was extremely hard initially but she grew into it.
What she realized was that when a client sends her an “urgent” email and she does not respond within 5 minutes, one of two things happen:
1. The issues solve themselves by the time she answers the email
2. The email was actually not that urgent and nobody died
Her clients got used to her new email schedule and she set very clear expectations with them.
I believe she is now down to checking email once a day and you can tell it by her energy level and relaxed posture that it made a huge difference in her life.
But What If My Clients Expect Me to Answer Within 5 Minutes?
Well, you either keep driving yourself crazy or do one of two things:
1. Hire somebody for customer service
2. Or better, set the right expectations with your clients
Not a single one of my friend’s clients ever complained about her being too slow to respond.
None of my clients ever complained about my email schedule either. It all comes down to setting the right expectations.
How to Avoid Getting Sucked Into the Black Email Hole
Another important detail is to make sure you never check email first thing in the morning. This may sound controversial if you are used to spend your entire day in your inbox.
The issue with working on email first thing in the morning is that it kills your initial creativity. When you start work in the morning, your mind is fresh. If you are well organized, there should not be too many things on your mind to worry about.
The minute you open your email inbox, everything changes, even if you only “check” email for 10 seconds.
Think about it, which emails are you looking for when you open your inbox? Is it the “Thank you” or “Looking forward to talking to you” emails? I doubt it.
You are looking for the seemingly urgent emails, the ones that bring negative news and want to make you do something right away. Guess what, you will always find these emails.
What happens when your eyes glance over these subjects and excerpts of messages?
You have just dedicated your entire day to email.
Even if you manage to fight a few fires and only stay in there for an hour or two, you already lost the most creative time of your day.
Even worse, if you get out of your inbox now, the “Inbox (327)” picture with all the unread emails will stay in your head and distract you for the rest of the day.
Checking email first thing in the morning is like voluntarily stepping into a black hole that sucks you into its maelstrom for the entire day.
How to Get from 200+ Emails Per Day to 50
Now you may ask yourself “How on earth should I be able to go through 200+ emails per day in 30 minutes?”. That’s a very valid question.
I used to easily get 200+ emails per day and it was even worse after weekends or vacation. It usually took me 2 days to go through my email after coming back from 2 weeks of vacation.
Not something I’m very eager about.
Here’s what I did. Thanks to my assistant, I figured out a way to reduce my emails from 200+ per day to about 50 per day.
There are so many emails we don’t really need to see. I talked about unroll.me in an article here. This tool alone saved me countless hours.
My assistant goes into my email inbox every morning before I go in there and takes care of all the emails I don’t need to see.
I defined a very detailed processes and rules for her to follow so she knows exactly what types of emails she can process, take action on, archive or delete.
Here’s the types of emails my assistant manages:
- Out of office replies
- LinkedIn notifications that I don’t need to take action on
- Any social media notifications that are not personally directed to me
- Emails that my assistant has to take action on
- Receipts that have to go into my accounting system
- Blog comments and pingbacks
- Confirmations that somebody accepted a calendar invite
- Confirmations that somebody booked an intake call (goes directly into my calendar)
Checking Social / Promotion / Updates Once Per Week
This step specifically applies if you use Gmail. If you don’t, you can still use this step by creating 4 folders and name them Primary, Social, Promotion and Updates.
Then you create rules for every email that comes in to be added to the right folder. I love Gmail because it does this automatically.
If your assistant is as amazing as mine, you should now be left with only personally addressed emails to you in your primary email tab plus some social, promotional and update emails.
I only check my Social, Promotion & Update tabs once per week because my most important emails are all in the Primary tab.
That leaves me with about 50 emails per day in my primary tab and I can manage that in about 30-60 minutes per day.
Properly managing your email can be a life-saver as you have seen in my friend’s example. Think about all the wonderful things you could spend more time on if you would only spend 30-60 minutes per day in your inbox.
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