It probably sounds really cliche, obvious and super simple, BUT staying on top of your email is seriously one of the best things you can do for yourself in business. Personally, I start feeling super stressed if my box starts to get beyond 50+ unread emails. And sometimes when I get overwhelmed, I become less productive and I'm more likely to procrastinate, on top of feeling a certain level of anxiety and guilt. Which I realize makes zero sense, but it's something that I've noticed. Maybe you relate?
I also want to point out that answering emails often leads to big opportunities. It's crazy to think that there might be an email sitting in your box right now that might lead you to a new venture, a new opportunity, a long term partnership, etc. There might be an unread email sitting in your box this very second that could change your life a little bit—so don't miss it! But, it's hard! Staying on top of an ever-growing pile of messages that need decisions, research, answers, etc. is not always an easy task. But over the years, I feel like I've gotten better and better in this area, and I'd love to share five tips I've learned with you.
1. Answer tough emails first.
I know, you don't want to answer that one first. I get it. And I have a tendency to think, "Oh I'll just gain some momentum by answering these quick ones first, and then I'll get back to that really time-consuming one later." But honestly, it doesn't usually work that way. I usually end up NOT getting to the tough one later, and then putting it off for longer than it needs. Meanwhile it's on my mind and distracting me from my other work. So, the best thing I've found is to tackle the tough ones first. Get it off your plate and out of your mind so you can move on to other tasks.
2. Create template answers for FAQs.
This is especially useful if you are working for yourself and you handle a lot of "customer service" type emails. A lot of times you'll get the same or very similar questions over and over again. Create a template answer that you can quickly copy and paste, and then maybe just customize a little to make it feel more authentic before you hit send. This can save you SO much time. Of course, there are emails where it would be inappropriate to send a templated answer. So just make sure you know the difference.
3. Organize and sort mail into folders.
This is actually a trick that Trey does really well. Not only does it help you prioritize what emails might need a faster response or just more attention, it can also be beneficial when you need to go back through emails to find information you may have forgotten or need again. Depending on what email system you use, there are different ways to accomplish this. And I know one barrier will be finding the time to just set this up, but add it to your to-do list one week to spend a couple hours creating your tabs or folders or however you plan to organize things, and I promise it will be time well spent.
4. Unsubscribe to junk.
I am subscribed to quite a few newsletters. I use the information many of them provide and I do want to receive some of them (like for sales at favorite shops, etc.). I know a lot of people will set up a different, more personal, email for these types of things so that it won't distract from their work email account (and if you work at a company that issues you a specific email, then you already have this built in). But it can also be a good exercise to go through and make sure you are actually still using and enjoying all the newsletters you are signed up for. If not, unsubscribe. It will only take a few seconds and will save you time as you won't have to receive those emails any longer. You can always sign up again if you find that you want back in. 🙂
5. Out of Office setting is only for when you actually need it.
This is partly a tip and partly a pet peeve of mine. When I email someone about something important, like potential freelance work, and I get an out of office response (or no response at all for 2+ days), then I expect they are on vacation or in some situation where they don't have Internet. BUT, if I hop on Instagram and see that they are not on vacation, I likely will reconsider working with them because I find this to be very unprofessional. We all have to take time off or have situations from time to time where we don't have good Internet access and can't respond. I am the same way. I also don't always check email on the weekends, so I don't usually expect others to. But sometimes I see people, especially creatives who tend to mostly freelance or work for themselves, use vacation settings as a way to simply not answer emails in a timely manner. Don't do this. It looks unprofessional to others and it's certainly a trap for yourself. Don't give yourself a free pass just because you've gotten overwhelmed. Get in that email box and make some progress. You got this.
If anyone has other tips for getting through that sometimes-overwhelming email box, feel free to share! xo. Emma
Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photo edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.