Inbox zero. The most sought after and yet seemingly impossible thing for all business owners to achieve. It’s the desire to get out from under the crushing weight of people that need your attention, while knowing that realistically, inbox zero is a myth, because there’s always more emails pouring in.
While on a deeper level that is actually a good thing, something to be really grateful for, because it means that what you do, who you are, and what you provide is in demand, in the moment it can be really overwhelming. And it can get in the way of business growth.
So, how do we combat it? How do we manage our inboxes without losing our minds? After 8+ years of running businesses and hundreds if not thousands of emails piling up weekly, I’ve learned a thing or four…
“Your poor planning is not my emergency.”
Say it with me! This is my absolute favorite phrase, and I live by it. Most of the emails that come my way are the result of someone else’s poor planning and them asking me to fix it somehow. It comes in a lot of forms—they’ve waited until the last minute and now need a consultation to launch their business properly, they just have a “quick question”—you know what I’m talking about.
I’ve spent way too long catering to other people and abandoning my own needs and the needs of my business, so one thing I stand by these days is this phrase. As tempting as it may be (especially because you just want to see that email disappear) you can’t cater to everyone else’s emergency, especially at the expense of your own business. Otherwise, you’ll spend all day every day putting out fires, which means less (or no) time to work on your own business.
Repeat this phrase often. Learn it. Live by it.
If you insist on replying to every single email before the day or week is over, one of my favorite tricks for getting it out of sight (and therefor out of mind) while ensuring it doesn’t just boomerang back to me within an hour is to use a scheduling tool and set it up so the email goes out hours or days (!!) after I’ve written the reply. This is a great way to clean up your inbox while getting ahead. It’s what keeps me sane.
I use Hubspot’s (free!) tool but there are a few different ones out there. This is by far my #1 favorite trick to getting my inbox to a manageable level, without neglecting anyone
Address the most important emails first
When you’re in a time crunch and you simply can’t address every email (which, let’s be honest: is all the time), you want to address the most important ones first, and the ones that come most naturally. If you only have a half hour to get through emails you can’t spend that full half hour bogged down in ONE email that you can’t wrap your head around, or answering questions that aren’t time sensitive.
Instead, skim your inbox for the ones that are easiest and/or most important. The ones that really do need your attention today, or that are simple, quick answers. If you can, refer back to #2 and schedule out the ones that aren’t time sensitive.
Allow yourself a certain amount of time to answer emails and then get out.
This was one of the hardest, yet most effective rules for me to implement on myself. It becomes SO easy to get sucked into your emails both as a necessity (they’re always there! They need to get answered!) and because sometimes you just don’t know what else to do but you need to feel busy. Both of those are business killers if you do them long enough.
When I started implementing set times to work on my email and making sure I didn’t go past those times, everything changed. My business grew, my sanity came back to me, and guess what, my inbox actually became LESS overwhelming! By virtue of setting aside say, an hour in the morning and an hour at night to work on your emails and staying out of there the rest of the day, you’re training your brain to not go into freak out mode every time you open it, and you have the energy to tackle those emails in a much more efficient way.
Believe me, I know how overwhelming it can get. Your email has a way of feeling like it’s taking over your life. But trust me, everything is going to be ok. They’re only emails, and I promise they’ll be there when you get to them, whether that’s tomorrow or a week from now. However urgent they might feel now, odds are they really aren’t, and everyone and everything will still be ok if you take an extra few days to reply.
However, if all you ever do is answer emails and solve other people’s problems your business will suffer So don’t forget who really deserves that urgent, must-get-to-it-right-now attention: you. Your business. Your family. Your friends. The rest can wait.
Comment below and tell me—have these strategies helped you? What methods of your own have you been able to implement and see a difference from?