A blessing and a curse

Email is one of the greatest, most useful tools in this day and age. We use it daily. We communicate with nearly everyone, at some point, with email. We get spam, family news, marketing information, sale ads, industry news, tips, notifications, and birth announcements. It comes to us at a furious pace, and can quickly get out of control. You either spend too much time reading, replying and sorting email, or you just let it mount up to the point that it is completely out of control. You can’t possibly read it all, what more find and respond to the really important messages. When that happens, important details may fall through the cracks and somebody down the line is going to be neglected, and that’s when the chaos starts to mushroom.

Rather than chucking email as a waste of time, arm yourself with the right tools and mindset, and make the most of your email. In this week’s Wrap-up, I’ll show you ways to manage your email, write more efficient replies, and finally, some apps that will help you automate your email organization. 

Everyone has their own way of handling email. I don’t subscribe to all of these practices. I just pick out the ones that work for me. You do the same. Even one or two of these tips will help you gain back some of your valuable time. 

It’s been years since I’ve used Outlook so I can’t tell you much about it. I’ll refer mostly to Gmail, and also Apple Mail. Most programs are very similar, so I don’t think you’ll have much trouble adapting these points to your program. 

Managing Your Email (and your time)

  1. Set an email review schedule – Timothy Ferriss of The 4-Hour Workweek only checks his email once a week. Pretty unrealistic for most of us. The point is though that he schedules a time to look at email, and he let’s everyone who matters to him, know it. If you can, take care of important things in the morning, and then around mid-morning, check your email. Check it once again mid-afternoon. And that’s it till the next day. 
  2. OHIO – “Only Handle It Once” A great philosophy for anything you do with email or paperwork. If you look at it or pick it up, you must do something with it. You can’t just put it back in the same place you got it. Make a decision and stick to it. More on where to put it later. 
  3. Delete unnecessary email – one way to clean up the email you got overnight, is to delete it. Go quickly down your list. Mark the ones that have no meaning or value to you – and press the Delete button. Even if you mess up, the deleted copy will be in your trash. 
  4. Star or flag your messages – this is one of my favorites. It’s fast and easy. When you don’t have time to read or reply to emails, yet you know they need your attention, Flag (Apple or Outlook) or Star (Gmail) them. Then, when time permits, click on the Starred emails and all the important ones will be grouped and ready for your perusal.
  5. Label or organize email into folders – most email programs have folders (Apple or Outlook) or labels (Gmail) that you can assign your email to. For instance, you might make a folder called Requires a Reply, and put emails in that folder that you will reply to later, when you have time. Other labels or folders might be, For Future Reference, Orders, the Jones Project, Family, or Vacation Info. This helps group your emails and makes it easier to reply to, or not. It also helps you find messages for future reference. 
  6. Turn off notifications – there are many types of notifications telling you when an email has arrived. Turn them off – permanently. They distract you from your work. With a set schedule, you don’t need to be notified about the arrival of an email message anymore. 
  7. Close your email program when you don’t want to hear from it – another way to avoid time-wasting distractions. Close your email, and don’t open it till it’s time to work on email.
  8. Let people know when you’ll answer email – as I mentioned before, Timothy Ferriss not only has a scheduled time to look at his messages, he tells everyone in his company that he won’t read their message until a specific time each week. Most likely, for you, it will be each day. 
  9. Send less email – one way to get less email is to send less email. Most emails require a response, and the conversation thread takes on a life of its own. 
  10. Use rules – each email program has filters or rules that you can set up to automatically organize certain messages. I won’t go into the specifics here on how to set up these rules, but I’ll show you how they can be used. Say for instance you may often receive orders from Amazon. Amazon is extremely good about confirming your order, telling you when it shipped, and that it has arrived. All well and good, but most of the time you don’t need to know this. Yet, sometimes you want to check this information. Make a rule that reads, If the sender is Amazon.com and the subject line reads “Your Amazon.com order” then place the message in a folder called Orders and skip the Inbox. This is easily done and doesn’t require any real skills. Just match the “From” and the “Subject Line” and click on “Skip Inbox” and send to “X Folder”. Now you have hundreds of emails that would normally take up a lot of your time, organized in a tidy folder, ready for you when you are. 
  11. Unsubscribe – probably one of the biggest time-savers. If information you are receiving regularly doesn’t serve you, go to the bottom of the email and unsubscribe. If it doesn’t have an Unsubscribe button, then send it to Spam or Junk mail. Eventually your program will understand that this is not a person you want to hear from, and you’ll never see them again.

Writing or replying to emails

Here’s some ways to become more efficient when writing or replying to emails.

  1. Confirm receipt of emails – when you send out an important email, always end with a PS at the end asking them to please confirm that they received your email. Conversely, when someone sends you a personal message, send them a short reply saying, “Thanks”, “Got it!”, or “You bet”. This is a great courtesy to the sender and does not require them to reply back to you. 
  2. Use your domain email address rather than a free service email – most of us have a Yahoo, Gmail, or Hotmail account that we got for free. While these email addresses  are very useful, when sending important business messages, it’s best to use your business domain, such as, Robert@abetterremodelingcompany.com. This has a much greater impact and sends the subliminal message that you are a professional. A second advantage is that, for those who are reasonably savvy, you also gave them your business URL. 
  3. Use disposable addresses – now’s the time to use free email addresses. It’s very easy to set up email accounts, so some disposable accounts are nice to have. You can also use these if you want to track who might be sending you a message and whether they are selling your email address. Let’s take Gmail for instance. You want to subscribe to a newsletter, but aren’t really serious about it. Create an email address, such as Newsletterfreak@gmail.com and use that address when you opt into their subscription base. If you start getting a lot of spam and unwanted mail to this email address, merely delete the account.
  4. Add a signature with contact info – most email programs have the ability to set up one or multiple signatures that you can automatically add to the end of your email messages. Find out how to make one and set it up with your full name, your contact information, and even social sites you belong to. If you want to get fancy, you can add images such as your logo to the signature.
  5. Use a text expander – a text expander allows you to create entire emails from a snippet. For instance, you may have a letter that you write over and over again with only minor changes, such as a thank-you letter for an initial consultation. Write the letter exactly as you want it, minus the parts that change, and save it as a snippet  in your text expander program. The next time you are sending out this Thank-you email, just type the snippet (the snippet might be “1stconsult”) in the body of the email message, press the space bar, and the whole letter will appear. Add the changes such as their name and the time of the appointment, and you’re done. I use Smilesoftware.com Textexpander which works on the Apple platform, both desktop and mobile. I have hundreds of snippets, from entire documents to single words, and quite frankly, I don’t know how I could get along without it. 
  6. Re-use emails – another way to get mail out faster is to make a template of messages you send often, and save it in your email program. Find it, copy it to the new email, and make the changes. This works well and costs nothing. 
  7. Make a group for those you frequently write to – another great time saver. In your email program, make groups of email addresses and then all you have to do is address the email to the group without looking up or finding all of their addresses. Make a group for Immediate family, Siblings, Office personnel, Lead carpenters, All subcontractors, All vendors, etc. It takes a little time at first, but just like any good process, it saves you time in the long run. When it comes time to send a newsletter to your vendors and subcontractors, all you have to do is type All vendors, and All subcontractors in the Send to box, and all their email addresses will populate the Send to box.
  8. Use auto replies – most programs have a feature called Auto Reply. Many people use this when they will be away from their email for an extended amount of time, such as attending a conference or going on vacation. What it does, when enabled, is to send out a pre-written message acknowledging that you received the message and will respond in “x” amount of time. Most would include a number or email address of an assistant who can take care of their immediate needs if necessary. Although this is the primary use of auto-replies, you can use your imagination and come up with other ways to use it. They are quick and easy to set up, so you could even make one on a daily basis if you like. 

Apps that will help you control your email

Here are a few apps that will help you manage your email, keep track of replies, and make it easier to get off someone’s list.

Sanebox – this app is great when you want to save certain email to read later, and separate the important messages from unimportant ones. Once you get it set up, it does this and a lot more for you automatically. Highly recommended – Sanebox.com

Mailplane – if you use and love Gmail and own a Mac, this is the app for you. You can switch quickly between all your Gmail accounts, open Google calendars within the app, and it supports other great add-ons such a Rapportive.com and Boomerang. Mailplaneapp.com

Boomeranggmail.com  – Another great app for Gmail and Outlook users. You can delay/schedule replies and messages, track replies, and get confirmation that your mail was read. Personal users even get click tracking so you know if someone clicked a link in your email. This is a super useful tool. Once you try it, you’ll find lots of ways to improve your email efficiency.

Unroll.me  – organizes newsletters and unsubscribes from the one’s you don’t want. If you have too many newsletters coming in, and can’t sort the good from the bad, Unroll.me can help you. It rolls all the ones you want to keep into an easy to read email, delivered to you daily at the time of your choice.

Feel better?

I think when you put your mind to improving your email management, you’re going to see big changes – changes in the amount of time you spend on email, and changes in the way you view email. Armed with these new tools and tips, you’ll be able to turn the email curse into a blessing. Right?

Wishing you the best of fortune, Randall

This article was written by Randall Soules, remodeling coach, adviser, educator, and creator of the Scientific Remodeling System, showing you better ways to advance your business, raise your profits, and improve your life, through the use of superior remodeling processes. If you would like to discover better ways to run your business, click here. He also provides his uniquely customized one-on-one coaching to a select group of contractors. Feel free to contact Randall at Randall@scientificremodelingsystem.com.

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