If there's any skill I've had to master in business, it's managing my inbox. I'm sure you know what I mean -- if it's not organized enough, you never get anything done and constantly feel behind on getting back to people. But getting to the state where you feel like it is organized enough and you know what's going on? That can be tricky!
Today I want to share with you my top three steps to take back control of your inbox. (Note: These particular strategies are from my experience using the Gmail web browser, and are not instructions for any other email client. They can, however, be adapted for your email client if you use something different!)
See, the way your clients, your friends, and strangers interact with you via email is exactly how you've trained them to interact with you.
If you answer emails immediately, no matter if it's two in the afternoon or two in the morning, people will email you with that expectation. If you always answer emails on the weekends, people will email you with that expectation.
So the idea is to train people to interact with you via email how YOU want them to, not however they want.
These are three strategies that I use in my business (where I manage at least five different inboxes and email accounts on a daily basis, and am almost always at inbox zero) that have worked wonders, and I hope they can work for you, too!
1 | Put office hours in your signature
This is something that I had the "Aha!" moment for a few months ago now, and I've honestly never looked back.
If you have a signature set up for your email account, you probably have all sorts of nifty info in there -- a link to your website, your title and what you do, and where people can find you on social media. But putting in your office hours (aka when you're at your desk, working) shows people when they can expect to hear back from you, and when you aren't in your inbox.
For example, if you've emailed me this year, you know that my office hours are Monday through Friday, 10a to 6p Central time. You won't get a response before or after those hours, because that is my work day. And the more people see that in your signature, the more it will become second nature to just know that's when you're available and theoretically in your inbox.
2 | Set up an autoresponder
This is another "Aha!" moment I had when I went full-time with my business in January. Instead of just using an autoresponder if I'm out of the office, I have one on 24/7 (and honestly, there's an autoresponder of some sort on every single email account I manage!)
The reason? It lets people know that yes, I've received their email, and exactly when they can expect a response from me.
This is my exact autoresponder for my Indigo Colton LLC email accounts:
This is a quick heads up that I have received your email (I'm super excited to read it!). With my business in full-swing, I'm spending less time in my inbox and more time working and creating.
If you're a client of mine, rest assured that I will get back to you within 24 hours.
Otherwise, I will get back to you within 2-3 business days.
I hope that the rest of your day is wonderful! :)"
If you get a lot of questions over and over, you could include a link to the FAQ page on your site or put the questions and answers in your autoresponder. If you get a client request frequently and know you'll need certain information from your client, you can put that in your autoresponder.
It's really whatever you need to do in order to manage expectations and feel less stressed about email!
3 | Use labels
This is perhaps my favorite trick for keeping email overwhelm from taking over my life! Gmail uses labels instead of folders, but you CAN file emails in their label, which removes them from your main inbox -- that keeps your inbox super clean, which can definitely help with feeling in control of your email.
You can create labels for pretty much anything you want!
For example, in my Gmail accounts for Indigo Colton LLC, I have filters set up (which are basically just rules for Gmail to follow when a certain type of email comes in the inbox) that automatically apply the label for that client if an email comes from their email address, and also applies the label "Emails To Answer."
That way, when I log into my account, I can quickly identify my client emails that need to be answered, since those are top priority for me. Then when I send my reply, I simply delete the labels "Inbox" and "Emails To Answer" and the email is filed in the client's folder, with the rest of their emails.
Each label can also be set to have a color, instead of the default gray -- that allows you to color-code your labels, and quickly see how many emails you have of each type. For the organizational-loving Virgo that I am, this is pretty much a dream come true!
I personally use a light lavender for "Emails To Answer" in my company's email accounts, and use more jarring colors, like a bright red or orange, for important emails to answer in the other inboxes I manage. All of my clients have the same color applied to their label, so I always know when something is a client email.
The labels and their colors are really about figuring out what system works for you!