Administrative tasks often steal the joy right out of the business you created to execute your passion. You started a business or joined a company to do The Thing that you love to do, not to sit in meetings, organize files, write reports, do taxes, pay bills, and answer emails about doing The Thing. Those administrative tasks are the time-suckers that often stifle your creativity and don’t bring you any joy. It’s time to face the fact that while you can do tasks like email inbox management, someone else can probably do them faster and better.
Do you know the number one reason why business owners and entrepreneurs don’t hire someone else to help with administrative tasks? More than any other reason we hear, it’s because they’re trying to save money. The truth is, you’re actually losing out on potential revenue by thinking you can do it all in order to save the bottom line.
Email Inbox Management
One of those major time-sucking activities for any business professional is the inbox, also (un)fondly known as the email vortex, the Bermuda Triangle, or the place where business opportunities go to die (kidding, mostly). You set out to answer a few emails, and suddenly you are four hours deep with no end in sight because they just keep rolling in.
Here are a few tools and strategies that can help.
After you’ve sorted out the types of emails you’ve received, you’ll probably notice that many of them are requests for your time. Jack wants to schedule a meeting with you to discuss the next steps of the project. Beth wants to get coffee sometime this week. Ruth from ABC Consulting would like to discuss potentially working together. You get the idea.
This type of message seems simple enough, but once you’ve got an email chain going with eight people trying to schedule a one-hour meeting that works for everyone, you’re going to spend hours in that thread. The best thing to do is completely automate and/or delegate this section of your inbox to an assistant.
Set up a scheduling tool like MixMax or Calendly, and set your ideal meeting schedule within the tool. Then, if you’re doing it yourself, send the calendar link and ask others to schedule with you by using the tool. If you’ve got an assistant, provide some canned responses and the scheduling link so that they can handle the back and forth on your behalf. Either you can forward the request to your assistant’s inbox, or they can jump directly into your inbox and send messages on your behalf.
Templated email responses are a huge timesaver. So many times per day, you’re typing the same thing over and over again.
How many times have you written, “Let me know what you think,” or “Let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help,” today? It’s a quick sentence, but if you’re typing the same thing ten (or even five) times per day, you’re wasting lots of time over the course of your week.
You (or your assistant) can go back through your recently sent emails and analyze for patterns. From there, you can use the Canned Responses advanced feature in Gmail, Quick Steps in Microsoft Outlook, and similar features of other email clients or various plugin options.
These tools create and save general templated messages that you can easily add to email responses and personalize (if needed) in the future. Canned responses are also another great way to allow your assistant to reply to some of the less involved requests that come through your inbox.
Inbox Organization Hacks
There are about seven standard categories of email that come to every inbox on a daily basis, no matter what business or industry you’re in. You’ve got your requests for meetings, new business or other lead nurturing-related messages, existing work that you need to do or needs your review and approval, legal or financial communication, marketing emails and subscriptions, personal notes or requests, and general spam.
The first step to cutting down the time you spend on email inbox management and avoiding analysis paralysis due to the sheer volume of messages is to organize. When you open your inbox, do you tend to just dive right into the first message you see? Do you skip around, read a few, decide that one is going to take too long so you move to another one only to go back to the first message, and start working? Then, while you’re crafting a response, another message comes in. Do you click the notification to read that one because it seems urgent?
If this is how you operate, you’re wasting time. You’ve probably spent an hour in the morning yo-yoing around your inbox without accomplishing one single thing.
Instead, the key is to open your inbox and practice restraint. Do some pre-work and set up your inbox with a filtering system of some sort. Whether you prefer using the star-and-bang method, tagging and filtering, or using a plugin to sort emails, organization is key.
For a simple, one-click organizational habit, many like to utilize Gmail’s star and bang options to categorize their messages into important, less important, not important, questions, and so on. To collaborate with an assistant using this system, you’ll need to create a “key” and determine what each symbol needs. Then, all you have to do is stick to that key so that you and your assistant (and even Gmail’s symbol prediction feature) are on the same page.
Filters and Tags
Creating filters to automatically tag and file your messages can save a lot of time in the organization process. I like to keep my email communication sorted by client, so every email that comes from or is sent to Client A is automatically filtered into a tag (or a folder) that compiles all communication with Client A. This makes it easy for me to keep track, and it also visually displays the client’s name in their message preview so that my eye can quickly recognize the importance of an email.
Of course, this is just an example of using filters to simplify your inbox, but everyone will have different needs. If you’ve identified the tags you need in your inbox, fantastic! If not, an assistant can help you establish the organization and keep your filters and tags up to date.
Multiple Inboxes for Gmail
I’m a huge proponent of (and have been using for years myself) the Multiple Inboxes feature for Gmail, which you can enable and customize in your advanced tab in Gmail’s Settings. You can use this feature in conjunction with your tags, filters, or stars, or use a combination of them all.
Essentially, this feature creates up to five different “buckets” of email. I like to have a bucket for urgent email that needs to be handled ASAP, things that can wait until later but need to be done, and then things that I’ve sent out a response on but want to keep track of (you can also use the Remind Me feature for this) to ensure someone actually replies. This is especially helpful for our sales funnel so that I can frequently follow up with potential clients we’ve had conversations with.
By utilizing this feature, you’ll be able to open your inbox in the morning, look at the subject lines of each of your messages (avoid the temptation to open them if possible!), and sort them into multiple inboxes. After that, you can start chipping away at them based on priority. I guarantee that you’ll find yourself more productively utilizing your time.
Or (and I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but I can’t say it enough) you can hire an assistant to sort your inbox. All you’ll need to do is open your email tab and go straight for the things that are on fire.
PRO TIP: A great way to get collaborative and train an assistant on your inbox preferences is to record your screen using a free tool like Loom and talk through what you’re doing (and why) when you’re sorting your own inbox. This way, they can learn what you need to see and don’t need to see and accurately predict and organize for you in the future.
As an example, we’ve worked with a client who hates email and has collaborated heavily with her assistant so that she only opens her inbox twice per week for one-hour intervals. Her assistant handles the rest. If that’s not a testimonial for the effectiveness of email inbox management systems if you’re willing to commit, I don’t know what is!
By utilizing these strategies and tools, you’ll immediately cut hours of administrative time out of your workday so that you can get back to doing The Thing you come to work for in the first place.