If you’re like me, you have a hundred and one things to do, all due yesterday, no time to do it, and yet will jump into a three-hour Facebook conversation about the best way to bake a turkey despite the fact that you don’t cook. In my business (and I’m sure this doesn’t just apply to motivational speakers) the ability to manage my time is vital to me staying on task and getting things done. And one MAJOR time sucker is my inbox. I get on average about fifty legitimate emails a day – ranging from someone who wants to book me for the job I’m sure will make me famous, to the client who needs a description of my program and travel information, to the stranger who is convinced I will be the one to make them famous, to my sister-in-law who wants to know where I got that candle I bought her three Christmases ago. Because I use my inbox as my own list of things to do, and am adamant about clearing it out every day if I can, instead of just letting emails pile up – and because one of my business practices is getting back to clients the day they contact me – that inbox has great power over my mental health and productivity.
Do you control your inbox, or does it control you?
We all have different methods of managing our time, and who am I to say that my way is best? But I’m going to share with you what I did to get control of my inbox, in the hopes that it will help you.
1. Determine your daily priorities. This sounds basic, but I had never really established a list of priorities for my day. For example: Family emergencies come first, anything of a timely nature (example: due at the end of the day) comes next, potential clients and current clients’ needs come after that, then upcoming show details, then close friends, etc., etc. You must figure out what parts of your day are best spent on what tasks. This often has nothing to do with emails – but still applies to what emails you will answer, and when.
2. Come up with a system for dealing with the emails until you can get to them. Will you do like me, and keep them all in your inbox – and once they’ve been handled, they get deleted? Will you print them out and put them in a visible place until they are ready to be handled? (Tip: Don’t just throw them in a stack on your desk. That’s dangerous. At least have three stacks marked accordingly.) Or maybe you will create folders in your inbox labeled “top priority”, “second priority”, or whatever you want to call them that works best for you.
3. Assess the need for emails you receive on a regular basis. Okay, so maybe you were once excited about that new health plan, and eager to receive four emails a day with health tips – but you stopped reading them on day two. So why are you still getting them? It’s going to take a little extra time at first – but start unsubscribing to those newsletters you never read. Or just print them and file them in a “to read later” file.
4. Create a schedule for checking emails. I still fight the urge to have my email open where I can see it while I’m doing other tasks. And it never fails – ding! – I see a message from a friend and think, “Oh, she’s just got a quick question. I’ll just answer it so I can delete it from my inbox.” News flash: Those quick questions add up. If it’s not a top priority, don’t do it – even if it clears up your inbox. And if you’re like me, that quick question easily becomes a time sucker. So set routine times for checking your email – first thing in the morning, mid-morning, after lunch, mid afternoon, and at close of day. Or whatever you decide. It’s your schedule. You know what works for you.
5. STICK TO YOUR PLAN! This is the hardest part. If you’re like me, you are in a habit of just answering emails one after the other. And habits take 21 days to break. So you will have to be proactive about this until it becomes a habit. If you have to, post a note on your computer reminding you of your new inbox process. And when you see that email from your friend who just found a rocking pair of cowboy boots just your size, STOP! Ask yourself if this is the best use of your time? And it not – don’t answer it. Just like everything else in life and business, the best of plans are no good unless you take action on them.
6. Other Option: Hire someone to get your emails and prioritize them for you. Okay, so I don’t have the luxury of hiring someone to field all my emails. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. If you can justify it, hire someone to receive all of your incoming emails, prioritize them according to the priorities you have given them, and then schedule periodic times throughout the day when you are updated on what needs to be handled and when. Can you imagine how much you’d get done if you weren’t glued to your inbox?
7. Enjoy the new peace of mind you’ll have. Yes, you will still have a hundred and one things to do. Yes, you will still get tons of emails. And, yes, you will still be tempted to answer Great Aunt Nora’s chain letter. But you will have much more peace of mind if you control your inbox, rather than let your inbox control you.
I hope these tips help you get more organized and more productive in 2013. If not, just send me an email.