Email is still the go-to communication protocol that I prefer over everything else. Meetings and calls are necessary every now and then, but communicating with vendors, partners, peers, PR, and media editors is a lot easier asynchronously, plus the added benefit of managing notifications or work reports within the email inbox.
We have signed at least three seven-figure contracts over email – and we’ve never met two of our partners live. Considering the impact of COVID-19, distributed communication is ever so important, and this aligns really well with one of the oldest communication mediums for digital experts.
Emails vs. Meetings
Mark Cuban said that he’d rather receive 700 or 1000 emails a day than sit in random meetings.
(I can totally relate, even though I max out at 350 – 400 daily emails!)
Every meeting takes an extra 10 minutes due to various delays, connectivity issues (for online ones), someone receiving an important call in the meantime — you name it. Let alone the inability to start a complex task 30-45min prior to a meeting – your calendar keeps reminding you to arrive on time and prepare yourself with some meeting notes.
What about commuting? Meetings across the town (or even further) inevitably eat up a lot of time. Even if you combine that with some Slack while commuting or occasional calls, it’s still a tedious effort that interrupts your day.
Although emailing now appears to be the leading choice among those who are forced to work from home with the pandemic going on (along with tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams), many people still find managing emails to be very challenging.
If you are among those who have to deal with a staggering email backlog daily, you know that it can be a problematic chore. It takes a while to browse through your emails, identify priorities, reassign whenever needed, and handle everything without missing important backlog activities.
Here are 10 practical tips to reduce your email backlog and efficiently manage emails, thus allocating time and focus on what matters the most.
1. Share Your Email Scarcely
For starters, receiving fewer emails would certainly make dealing with the backlog more feasible than it is now. Don’t use your primary email for newsletter subscriptions, social media websites, and others that send tons of automated emails and notifications.
Having a separate email to use for reaching out with clients or collaborating with your senior management helps ensure that only the most important ones get into your mailbox.
How easily do you give up your own email?
Marketers tend to be less reluctant to sign-ups that require an email address. It’s their job and a great way to see what works and what doesn’t, check out another freebie and receive valuable insights from an email sequence.
Tech geeks are the worst. They often rant on privacy matters, use secretive “10-minute emails”, and wouldn’t sign up with their email unless their life depends on it.
To fill out a form and give away my email address, I need to see:
- A really valuable offer. A 5-page ebook or a checklist won’t do.
- A painful business challenge I am desperate to solve. Insider news or closed beta tools work well.
- A brand or an influencer that doesn’t raise flags. I am being cautious as I’m on the lookout for flaws and fragile credibility.
What does it take for an opt-in to receive your email? If you send automatic responses or “holiday leave” emails, this will inevitably get rolled into an email database that others will leverage.
And with the power of multiple inboxes and labels, you can detach your work and personal emails easily throughout the day.
2. Use Gmail
I’ve been a fanboy of Gmail ever since I signed up with an invite in 2004. I may be biased but in Feb 2016 Google announced that Gmail has over 1 billion active users. Nowadays, Gmail still remains the most popular email platform with over 1.8 billion users worldwide.
Gmail has a number of powerful features that would help with categorization, filtering, labeling emails, using different “stars”, making the best out of their AI-based “Priority Inbox”, leveraging several inboxes in a single dashboard, and connecting different accounts to the same inbox.
I’ll mention some extensions below that are known to work well with Gmail, too, and help you manage emails. Here’s a handy workflow that may do the job as well:
Even if you use Rackspace or Hey! or Yahoo, you can forward all of your emails to Gmail and add your SMTP servers so you can send through your Gmail account as well.
3. Automate the Incoming Mail
Spend some time setting up some filtering and archiving rules for your email. The more you fine-tune this process as you manage emails, the easier it would be to prioritize and separate the non-urgent emails in the designated folders only read “on-demand” or over the weekend.
Here are the steps to take in order for you to automatically filter emails by creating rules on Gmail.
- First, open Gmail.
- Click the Down arrow that you will find in the search box at the top.
- Enter your search criteria. To check if your search worked correctly and see what emails show up, click Search.
- At the bottom of the search window, click Create filter.
- Set up the filter however you want it to be set up.
- Click Create filter.
Filtering is really powerful and there are tons of options you can leverage to re-route and group your email in different ways. Check out step #7 for different labeling and categorization rules.
4. Delegate to Others
Some entrepreneurs and plenty of business owners hire assistants who sift through and manage emails and handle their daily schedules accordingly.
This has some obvious benefits when it comes to saving some time as a trained human can also interact with partners or prospects and discuss details on your behalf which wouldn’t require your attention.
There are other issues related to costs, trust, reliability – but it’s still a notable option.
With the rise of virtual assistants in the US, Asia, and Europe, looking for some help getting your email organized may be in order, too: Hire A Smart Assistant And Focus Only On Increasing Your Business Value
When And How Do You Delegate Email Management?
There is no tipping point in terms of delegating email management to assistants. There are ways around that for corporate CEOs of enterprises who never switch to email delegation simply because they have put their process in place early on:
- Keeping their main email hidden from the public
- Assigning other managers who can handle specific types of problems
- Utilizing email forwarders to specific groups based on labels, categories, keywords
- Using different mediums of communication used by others – project management systems, bug trackers, community/team emails
I’ve worked with 400+ CEOs as a service provider, consultant, or mentor. Some enterprise-grade CEOs never offloaded their email management to business assistants. Others have utilized the power of email assistance while running a 10-people strong startup.
Personally, I use my email as the first point of contact. I syndicate email newsletters in, reports from my team, comments in our project management system, bug reports, and discussions with 100+ clients that I occasionally interact with. 50% of my email is informational and I have to scroll it daily in order to keep up with projects. The other 50% require my direct response and offloading email wouldn’t improve our workflow.
It comes to several different considerations:
- What percentage of your incoming email directly to your personal account needs additional assistance?
- How many managers in-house can handle a portion of the incoming emails?
- What other communication mediums are available or could be introduced in order to reduce the hundreds or more emails daily?
- What portion of the emails can be forwarded with filters or dealt with automatic replies?
- Is there someone truly reliable in-house or in your inner circle who can be entrusted with your email?
- How much time can be saved in total with email delegation (given the additional back and forth with your assistant and still handling many responses yourself)?
- Do I need to be the first point of contact during emergencies, over the weekend, or at night? This may indeed justify an assistant although a reliable business should have several points of contact who can handle critical business cases – especially if a CEO is often away at conferences, investor meetings, and other offline events.
Email management is often a required activity to delegate to your personal assistant, although there are plenty of day-to-day tasks that entrepreneurs often don’t count while spending a lot of time on weekly.
As a rule of thumb, if your email is cluttered, figure out what’s the best way to clean it up, organize it with forwarders and group emails, and offload communication to other sources. Again, consider creating a unique email for your inner circle which can become your main contact, and offload the previous email account to an assistant or an entrusted party in your team.
If the investment in an office-based or a virtual assistant would let you save 7–10 hours a week spent on other business activities after the cleanup, go for it and maximize the growth potential of your startup.
5. Employ Automated Email Assistant
Nowadays, there are global dashboards and team management platforms that aggregate information from different mediums (social, email, brand mentions, support tickets, etc). In addition to that, there are a number of automated email assistants that you can leverage in order to reduce the load, automatically schedule some meetings, plan auto-replies given certain keywords, and so on.
Some AI email bots:
- Personalized Artificial Intelligence beats Information Overload – Knowmail
- AI Assistant For Your Email
- Astro – AI Meets Email, for Gmail and Office 365 on iOS and macOS
Less efficient than a person, but far more affordable.
6. Integrate Boomerang
Boomerang is a Gmail extension although there are probably alternatives for other clients.
It provides a few handy features, but the two main ones are:
- Send later – lets you reply to an email and send it in a couple of hours or even days to avoid the tedious back and forth of a quick reply during business hours
- Return later – reminds you of an email later in time (can specify date/time) so that your email reappears whenever you want without cluttering your backlog
Here’s a list of the options for reminders:
This particular email is for a low-priority gig for a high DA website open to receiving additional guest posts of mine. I keep pushing it back in time every couple of weeks or so and get back to them whenever I have some extra time to respond. That prevents the email from staying as unread (or forgotten) at all times.
It’s super handy to manage emails for follow-ups during outreach, reminders before a conference, and whatnot.
7. Use Labels and Categories
Organizing your inbox can make a real difference once you cross 100-200 daily emails.
I’ve created over 40 labels for different groups of incoming emails. Here are several examples that you can leverage yourself:
- Asana for project tasks that require my attention
- Partners for our long-term clients (higher priority)
- RFPs for contact form/sales emails I can chime in
- Publishing – for newsletters and partnership emails for publishers, one of the main niches we serve
- Press – media inquiries, editorial communication, press releases, podcast/webinar invitations
- Office – anything around furniture, renovation, workstations, kitchen equipment we need to order and align internally
- Accounting – invoices, reports, paperwork
- Legal – contracts and NDAs
It’s easy to automate most of these with the right filtering rules. First, start with conversations coming from specific emails – such as your clients, accounting and legal firm, or specific contractors or vendors. Allocate them in the right buffers.
Additionally, you can intercept specific keywords within your email – or clues in your subject line. Contact forms follow the same structure and can be assigned to the corresponding categories.
This allows you to prioritize critical emails first and do batches of work within the same context. It’s easier to review 10 invoices or 5 RFPs at once than jump between different conversations with nothing in common.
8. Master Your Mobile Experience
If you spend at least a couple of hours a day on mobile (and are expected to monitor/respond to email), adapting your email experience may be integral to the way you converse.
For instance, I prefer to schedule emails sent at night a few hours ahead, i.e. during business hours. Since the Gmail app isn’t super helpful here, I use Boomerang’s mobile app for scheduling whenever I need to do this.
Additionally, I maintain a log of Google Keep email templates I can reuse (and starred Drive documents with data I need for my emails).
The “dual screen” mobile mode is also handy if I have to quote certain conversations while typing, so make sure you check this out as well.
What about notifications?
Most Android and iOS smartphones provide a broad variety of notification settings for email. My preferred choice is setting up the “Priority Inbox” (ignoring newsletters and the like) and only excluding email during DND mode. You can fine-tune this further, but make sure your email isn’t too intrusive, yet you don’t miss out on important conversations along the way.
9. Cherish the “Pause Inbox” Feature
Gmail introduced “Pause Inbox” a while back and I know that some of my partners use that regularly.
Personally, I don’t use it, but I can absolutely see how handy it comes if you check email a couple of times a day for an hour, or rely on Pomodoro as a productivity technique.
So if you’re overwhelmed with incoming emails and can’t help yourself but read every single conversation, just press the Pause button and resume whenever you’re ready to catch up.
10. Connect to Other Tools
Some folks really do forward most of their email to Slack, HipChat, a CRM, a PM system or something else. That may work out fairly well and reduce the backlog dramatically – especially if you set some rules that redirect email to other members in your team who would be the right point of contact.
Most tools are integrated with Gmail or Outlook (or Thunderbird) which is neat, and Zapier or IFTTT can often be used to further integrate those with Dropbox, Google Drive, auto-post received content to internal platforms, coordinate data for content marketers on social media, etc.
If this workflow seems overwhelming, read up some extra insights on how to use email productively: 14 Common Misconceptions About Email – Gmail’s Toolkit
And if there’s anything else that I haven’t included (but you truly enjoy while using email), let me know in the comments!