Tips for Managing an Endless Inbox
Ahh, the endless inbox. We all have them, don't we? Whether you're a wedding professional who is constantly receiving inquiries, spam, and opportunities for advertising or publication; or a bride who is receiving multiple messages, follow-ups, and questions from vendors about your big day, we all have out-of-control inboxes to tame.
Sometimes an overflowing inbox can seem incredibly daunting. You begin to wonder if you'll ever be able to respond to all your messages or have a clean, organized inbox.
I'm here to tell you it is possible! You can stay on top of your ever-growing inbox - whether your a small business owner or a bride!
Here are my go-to tips for keeping my inbox clean, organized, and much less overwhelming:
- Schedule several times throughout the day to check-in with your inbox. I've talked to several small business owners who insist on only checking email first thing in the morning and again at the end of the day - that's it. Personally, I would have an anxiety attack if I only checked my email twice a day. In the back of my mind, I would know my inbox was filling up and I wouldn't have time to respond to all my messages at the end of the day - and ending the day with important, unanswered messages would really disrupt my sleep at night. So instead, I check in several times throughout the day. This is what a typical check-in schedule looks like for me:
- First thing in the morning - This is when I respond to urgent messages or messages that take very little thought to respond to (such as a quick yes or no answer). Usually, I'm only about half a cup of coffee in at this point, so trying to respond to anything else could end in disaster!
- Mid-morning - Ahh, now I've had a full cup of coffee (who am I kidding? I've had at least two) and can respond properly to important messages that require a little more thought than the early morning emails, but weren't quite as urgent. This ensures those important messages get a proper response in less than 24 hours, but I give myself some time to process what needs to be addressed.
- Lunchtime - I generally check-in with my inbox around lunchtime to see what new messages have arrived, and begin to chip away at emails that arrived in the morning, but weren't time-sensitive. By lunchtime, I'm in my groove, so I don't need quite as much brain power as I did first thing in the morning. This is also a great time to respond to emails that came in throughout the morning, but only need a quick response. It's also a great time for me to touch-base and follow-up with current and potential clients.
- Mid-afternoon - This check-in schedule is a hybrid of the mid-morning and lunchtime schedule. I do a basic check-in to see what's come in, follow-up with clients who may have responded to proofs, and take care of administrative items for the day so I don't have to worry about using too much of my brain at the very end of the day when I'm hungry and tired.
- End of day - This is the last check-in I'll do for the day. This is generally my time to "close out" the business day. I'll respond to any straggling messages that were sent throughout the day and follow-up with current and potential clients as needed. This is the time I really try to make sure I've responded to all important and time-sensitive messages.
- Keep organized folders, filters, and labels for your messages. Whether you use Gmail, a mail app (such as Airmail or Postbox), or your web server, take some time to set up organized folders for your messages. It will take a bit f time to set up initially, but will be worth it in the long run. If you use Gmail, I highly recommend setting up labels. If you're a small business owner, you could set up labels based on client project or vendor type. If you're a bride, you could set up labels for each vendor. When you use labels in Gmail, each message that comes in with a specific subject or from a specific email address will be color-coded so you know exactly who it's from and/or what the subject is without even having to read it. This helps you decide automatically if the email needs a response right away or if it can wait a few hours. Similarly, if you're using a mail app, you can set up folders and filters so the emails go directly into their designated area.
- Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. If you have a busy week, or just have an influx of messages coming in, make sure to prioritize them. Urgent and time-sensitive messages should be taken care of immediately. Once you've responded to those, prioritize messages based on importance. Obviously, all of them are important, but some of them may have a larger window of time to respond to, while others may not. You'll know which ones need to be responded to before others. If you're not able to get to some of the messages with a larger timeframe in a given day, put it on your morning list of responses for the following day.
- Focus on one email account or subject at a time. I have three email accounts - a personal, professional, and blog email. Sometimes, if I'm really in a pinch, I will view all accounts at once so I can quickly sift through and see what needs a response. Most of the time, though, it's better for me to focus on one of them at a time. Personal emails obviously don't get seen as much because they likely aren't quite as important (and anyone who has my personal email also has my professional email, too). Even if you only have one email address, try to focus on one specific subject at a given time. For instance, if you're a wedding vendor sending an email to a specific client, go ahead and respond to all emails regarding that specific client since you're brain is already focused on that event. Skipping around could end up costing you time because your brain has to adjust to focusing on a new project or thought process over and over.
- Set aside a time when you know you aren't typically busy to draft email responses. I'm going to let you in on one of my email and workday-scheduling secrets. I specifically end my week early on Fridays because I know I'm going to spend a couple of hours on Sunday evenings drafting responses to emails. You're probably wondering why in the world I would do this. Well, for several reasons. First, if an email comes in Friday afternoon, they likely aren't expecting a response until Monday, anyway. Second, I am much more focused on Sunday evenings than I am on late Friday afternoons. On Friday afternoon, my mind is wandering off to what I'll be doing over the weekend, not focusing on drafting a well-thought-out response. On Sunday evenings, my brain has adjusted to focusing on the week ahead and what needs to get done, so it's a much better time for me to schedule responses to emails to go out on Monday morning. (BONUS: This is also the time I create a rough schedule of what my week will look like).
- Keep to-do tasks marked as "unread." This one is a matter of personal preference. It drives my husband crazy when he sees a constant inbox with unread messages. For me, though, it serves as a to-do list. Messages that have not been filed or marked as read yet remind me that I owe that person a response or proof.
- Maintain a file of templates to use for general inquiries and emails. I put off doing this for a long, long time, but it really has helped with time management! The main reason I put off creating templates to use for emails was because I was worried my responses would look canned and uninviting. The last thing I want to do is draft a response that puts someone to sleep and makes them feel unimportant! After careful editing and consideration, I was able to draft a few responses that are warm, friendly, and still require a little work on my end to ensure the recipient feels important (because they are!). Each template has the basic information, with areas for me to plug in information such as names, dates, and ideas. Some great response templates to create include:
- Responding to a potential client
- Sending estimates and invoices
- Following up with a potential client
- Next steps in the design and proofing process
There you have it! Whew, that seems like a lot of information, but I promise once you develop a system, it becomes like second nature! I recommend taking some time to set up templates, labels/folders, and a go-to check-in schedule. In the long run, it will save you so much more time!