Founders: How are you handling hundreds of emails a day?
As a business owner, I am constantly getting emails from either customers, employees, cc alerts, etc. If I am out of the office for part of the day or in meetings, I come back to dozens of emails that I spend the rest of the day responding too. Any tips for managing and keeping your inbox organized? I think one of my company's value points is that we get back to our customers and partners almost right away.
You've been getting a lot of excellent actionable advice here, Kelly. Good for you for asking for help! You're definitely in the right space for getting help from a Virtual Assistant, if you don't have an onsite admin. A good VA will be able to help you prioritize, organize and delegate. In the meantime, one thing that comes to mind are Canned Responses. If you get a lot of similar questions in your email, you can pre-write your responses, sort of like having a personal FAQ for your most common email scenarios.
Create folders in your e-mail. Then create temporary folders...places to move all your mail to out of the day with instructions of how to handle it during and after the day. For example, I use folders such as "Needs response, To be Read later, Urgent, Low importance" and others. Then I can move the mail into these right away and delete the junk messages quickly. It gives me quick organization so I can work on them when I have time rather than interrupt my prime time. I handle hundreds during the day and keep my day moving forward on my terms, not my e-mail terms.
You might be interested in reading this blog post it talks about how you can organize your emails. It's called," Keep Your Email Organized And Spam Out Forever" you can read it here http://moneytobemade.ucoz.com/blog/keep_your_email_organized_and_spam_out_forever/2012-12-14-53
I think that this will really help you out.
The key is to set aside a time for emails and then concentrate on priority tasks. According to neuroscience we are setting ourselves up for failure if we continually try to respond to texts, emails etc. Our minds are not wired that way. I find that working with my clients that starting each day by setting priorities, addressing emails, and then moving on to address priorities throughout the day works best. Don't set up expectations to immediately respond to emails or texts. If you do you essentially telling others that this is the way you appreciate addressing priorities. Is that the way you want to manage your time?
There are many videos and blog posts on how to prioritize and address emails. You may want o look at "The Servant Manager" book or the video on time management from www.mkegreg.com/videos on time management.
There are a few things I did:
1. Use 1 e-mail for non-urgent items such as newsletters. These are items that it won't matter if not read right away (or for a week!)
2. Have most items go to a mailbox that your staff has access to. Let them go through most of them and flag items that you need to see. Most of the time, they can handle the issue.
3. Install a spam filter to automatically get rid of items you never need to see (this cut down on a lot of items in my inbox).
4. Set up folders and rules so items go directly into a specific folder that you can then handle urgent items easily. For instance i have Client Work, Networking, Payroll, Postponed Tasks, etc. If anything goes into your inbox, you can move to your specific folders as well. Client e-mails are obvious, networking are all those e-mails from organizations I attend and letting me know about upcoming meetings, Payroll are confirmations for tax deposits/direct deposits completed (we're a payroll company so every item processed receives a confirmation), postponed tasks are comments/posts from LinkedIn groups, etc).
When you return, go to the folder you know has the most important items and handle those first.
If you are busy and do not have time to answer all the mails you get then it is time to get your personal assistant who is familiar with your business operation and will answer all mails at the earliest.
I am in a similar situation, and can only check office e-mail twice a day. I have my mail server download mail to my phone (vibrate only!) to read and delete. The key is to make sure your settings delete from your server, so that when you return to the office you only have unread mail to deal with.
If you want your business to grow, you cannot expect to be doing all the admin yourself.
Set targets for response, and beat them as often as possible, but don't focus on the stuff you may have other people to deal with.
There are a few things you can do:
1) Make use of the auto-responders to answer the frequently asked questions. Responding to your clients "right away" doesn't always mean that you need to give them the final answer right away. Responding that you have received their request and will have a response before the day's end - is also good. In the meantime, recommend that they review your FAQ for additional information. Your FAQs are published on your website and newsletters as well - to help eliminate those level of calls.
2) Use the your emailer's Message Rules to automatically file the newsletters, status reports, employee's questions and important-but-non-urgent mail into properly labeled folders (and out of inbox). Then schedule/block a separate time to review those folders. This leaves your inbox with the emails that you want to be responding to on a more immediate basis. .
3) Put in a Help-desk priority system such that all customer emails go to a different email address which are handled by a Level 1 support or help desk. If the help desk can not answer those questions they respond to the client with an update; then the email is pass to the next Level of support.
4) Decide what your SLA (Service Level Agreement) will be. Should "free-mium" clients (clients that only participate in your free offers) get the same level of support that a premium client (someone truly supporting your products and company)? If not, limit the "free-mium" support to online FAQ and 2-day response times. Use the more immediate response times for the higher-paying clients. Give the higher-paying clients your "private email addresses" - and your "free-mium" clients your general "info level" email addresses.
5) Short-daily meetings (15 minutes) with your employees to recap the day's goals and status. Then have weekly one-on-one meetings with each individually. Setting these meetings in place will eliminate much of the employee's email correspondence BECAUSE a) they know they will talk to you in person, b) you will have answered their questions in person.
6) Ask yourself if you should actually be the one responding to this type of email. Just because you "can" doesn't mean you "should" be answering that type of email. Setup of procedure to off-load some of the typical emails and requests that you receive. Anything that repeats can be managed - but it doesn't mean that you have to be the one that manages it.
Check out zero inbox it may give you some other ways to conceive of solutions that fit you. https://signalvnoise.com/posts/1609-how-to-attain-inbox-zero-with-highrise-tasks
I use "smart" mail box folders for just about everything.... when I get back, I quickly scan the folders on the left... if any of them have messages I'll know I need to address them... If not, I know all the others can wait till later.
This was/is a huge issue for me as well. What I did and what I have our staff do is to just check email 2-3 times a day and just knock everything out. We as humans do not truly have the ability to multi-task so constantly checking email is extremely inefficient. You will notice that you will open up 1-2 hours a day by clumping this task and I have had co-workers tell me it was a life changer (yes, they were being a bit dramatic).
To Kim's point below, make sure you do delegate what you can, like customer service emails or duties.
But I do think if you take what you can off your plate and be disciplined in only checking emails 2 or 3 (2 will most likely be better for a business owner), you will notice immediate benefits. And if you do try this out, please let me know how it works for you.
You can time schedule your email. Send a message something like I will be away until or I will only answer emails between xxxx. Read 4 hour work week, it can help.
Before you open the mails, scan all of them for the sender and subject and first line or so .. if irrelevant, delete - do not even open. I do this every time I open the mailbox and cut out 20-30% of the mails in one go!! You can mark the unwanted senders as spam and redirect these mails to junk or trash box and save even more time !!
For all email: setup email filters that organize things into labels (Gmail) or folders (many other clients). Based on the subject or the sender, you can do things like: automatically mark as read, skip the main inbox, delete them, move to a folder label/etc. A Google search for: how to setup email filters in [Gmaill, Outlook, etc.] is a great place to start.
For customers: are they paying customers or unpaid customers? And how many do you have? One thing I've seen is many huge websites don't provide support for non-paying customers that have problems with their site. It's unfortunate and I'm not well-versed in why they do this but it must not be financially viable to provide support for non-paying customers. I don't know the size of your company but if email is overwhelming you, it could be an option.
For employees: Do you guys only use email for communication? One of the big problems with email is it's an endless stream of information and if you don't act quickly on something, it might get lost in the shuffle. I'd highly recommend a structured task manager or discussion forum. This keeps discussions organized and lets you reply when the time is right vs. instantly. Email can then be reserved for urgent situations or reminders.
EDIT: One more much simpler solution. Sometimes it can be faster to either call or meet in person than conduct a discussion via email, etc.
You need to delegate. Your time is far too valuable to be spending it combing through email. If you don't have someone in-house, then I would advise hiring a virtual assistant. A qualified VA will prioritize your email and mark those that require your immediate attention. The VA will also be able to answer many routine questions and other issues.
I suggest you use Pareto's 80/20. Of those 100 emails you receive only 20 are really important and necessitate your attention. All the other replies can be delegated to your business associate.