At the start of this year, I did something pretty crazy.
(For a solopreneur, at least.)
What led me to the aforementioned crazy thing was some heavy duty biz reflecting:
What was working well?
What did I absolutely LOVE about it?
What didn’t I like so much?
Where did I want to take things in 2017?
Where could I improve to make it a better experience for everyone involved?
I realized there was one big ol’ thorn in my side when it came to the “Stuff I Don’t Like” category.
And that thorn…was emails.
Emails — as much as I know they shouldn’t be — are majorly stress-inducing for me. (Anybody else?)
The never-ending pile in my inbox was really dragging me down. It irked me way more than it should to have unanswered emails just sitting there on busy days. It made me feel like I wasn’t on top of my shizz, which is the exact opposite of how I want to feel.
(One of my core desired feelings — if you’re a Danielle LaPorte fan — is graceful. And struggling to stay poised atop of a mountain of slippery emails doesn’t exactly scream “Audrey Hepburn.”)
Even when I’m working on fun projects with even fun-er clients, something about checking my inbox just…yick. It bums me out. It drains my energy.
So I knew something had to change. And that’s where the crazy thing came in…
The effects of constant email checking
Real quick, before I tell you what I did…
The nutshell version of why it matters (not just for my email-loathing self, but for YOU,) is this:
Interruptions (like email) eff up your mood.
Psychologists studied the effect of interruptions by observing workers completing a simple task. One group was allowed to complete the task in peace and quiet. The other was interrupted by a steady stream of phone calls and IMs while they worked.
There weren’t any significant differences in the errors made by the groups. But when it came to how they felt?
The interrupted group showed higher levels of stress, frustration, mental effort, time pressure, AND mental workload than the group who worked sans interruptions.
These negative feelings were caused because the second group didn’t feel they could keep up. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t get on top of the task.
Familiar feeling for ya, bud? Yeah. Me too.
Plus, there’s a huge downside to task switching. Task switching is the time lost when you switch from one task (like writing a blog post) to another (like checking your email.)
And that downside is to the tune of losing as much as 40% of your productive time.
Anybody out there who has an extra 40% of productive time to lose, I want to life swap with you!
When you’re actively designing a business and lifestyle to reduce stress and make the most of your time, being glued to your inbox just doesn’t cut it.
I decided to experiment and see how changing my approach to email would affect my productivity, workflow, and general joy levels during the workday. And I’ve gotta say, I’m pretty pumped with the results…
The 2-part email system to become the boss of your inbox
To “take back control of my inbox,” as they say, I did two simple things:
Thing #1: Batching
If you want to master your email, you need to say hello to batching.
Batching is a productivity technique where you perform similar activities together.
For example, instead of updating your QuickBooks every day, you can save your receipts and update it only on Friday mornings. If it takes you five minutes to perform the task daily, but only ten minutes to do it weekly, batching saves you 15 minutes each week. Win!
I decided that batching my email activities twice a day was the way to go. It’s enough to get back to people in a timely manner but still feels manageable.
I chose to check email:
1. Around 11 am, ONLY after I’d worked on my most important priority of the day
2. Before finishing up for the day, around 4 pm
To stick to my two-a-day rule, I had to create some boundaries for myself.
1. Close out the ever-present Gmail tab on my Chrome browser
Until recently, I ALWAYS had a Gmail tab open online. I could see when the number in my inbox ticked upwards, which made it suuuuper tempting to pop over and check it.
So that had to go.
2. Turn off email notifications on my iPhone
I KNOW!! Wild child, over here.
But if I was going to only check email twice a day, I didn’t need that incessant ting! reminding me of how much was piling up.
Here’s a little gif (that took me WAY too long to make) to cut the cord and turn off email notifications on your iPhone:
Thing #2: Processing
Another big change I made was to process my email, instead of just checking it.
Processing my email is a fancy way of saying I assign every email a place.
This is where Gmail labels + folders come in handy. (For more on creating Gmail labels + folders — it’s super easy, promise! — click here.)
Here are the labels I use to manage my Gmail:
– 1. Today — urgent emails that need to be addressed today
– 2. This Week — emails that need to be handled by the end of the week
– 3. Active Clients — with subfolders for each project
– 4. Education — to store great headlines and email copy
– 5. Ideas — because I send myself a quick email whenever a new idea sparks
– 6. Financial — invoices, receipts, etc.
Pro tip: Gmail automatically lists your labels alphabetically. So if you want them to appear in a certain order (like I do) add a number in front of the label name.
When I go into my inbox, I give each email a quick scan and assign it a label.
I move important emails to the Today and This Week folders, depending on when they need to be handled.
Then I move all client emails to their respective project folders.
I also file away emails related to Finances, Ideas, and Education, too — folders that I process at certain times during the month.
To move an email to a Gmail folder, just select the message, click the folder icon along the top, and choose the right folder.
If I can reply to an email in under five minutes, I’ll usually just reply instead of filing it. Saves me a step!
I’ll also sneak a peek at the This Week folder to get an idea of what’s on tap next and evaluate if anything should be tackled today instead.
Then I’ll dig into my client folders, replying and following up on important items there.
I close out of Gmail.
And I WORK.
I spend the rest of the day doing actual, un-Gmail ting!-interrupted work.
At the end of the day, I go back and do a mini-email process to tie up any loose ends.
Four ninja Gmail tricks that keeps me sane
1. Bookmarking my folders
If I know there are emails in my inbox, I feel this compulsive need to reply to them. But if I don’t know they’re in there, I can feel at peace with the situation.
So I set up bookmarks for certain Gmail folders.
I have bookmarks that link directly to my client folders, so I can jump to them without stopping in the inbox first.
I have a shortcut for my Today folder, too, which I use for my end-of-day email processing.
2. Searching for specific emails
I also have a bookmark that links to the search screen within Gmail, which is SUPER handy for finding specific emails…while skipping the inbox.
Copy and paste the link below to instantly search your Gmail mailbox. (Gmailbox?)
Just replace SEARCHTERMHERE with what you’re looking for — a person’s name, email address, subject line, or keywords.
3. Boomerang-ing emails for later
If I have an email that needs to be processed down the road, I use Boomerang for Gmail to return it to my inbox at a later date.
I also use Boomerang to schedule emails in the future, as well as remind me to follow up if I don’t get a reply to certain emails.
It helps keep my inbox and folders clear of the messages that don’t need to be there…while bringing them back into my awareness right when I need ‘em.
4. Setting up email templates
There are a few types of emails that I send over and over. Instead of reinventing the wheel each time, I created quick email templates using Gmail canned responses.
Canned responses allow you to type your email once and easily copy/paste it into the body of your email. I use canned responses to submit drafts to my clients, ask for testimonials after a project wraps, respond to consult requests, and more.
I’ll often personalize the email once the canned response is pasted in. But starting with the basic framework saves loads of time and energy.
Approaching my emails this way really helps me feel like a CEO. I make informed decisions about how to handle things, rather than spend my days responding to everyone else’s needs.
It’s a step in the right direction of the whole “run the day or the day runs you” thing. 🙂
It also helps me deliver better customer service. Even if I can’t finish something immediately, I can reply with a “Got it! I’ll get this to you by the end of the week” and then move it into my This Week folder.
I miss fewer important emails, too. By not letting them pile up, I’m a lot less likely to miss an important one lurking in the clutter.
As for only responding to emails twice a day…
That’s been totally fine! I’m sure there are some people who’d prefer to hear from me sooner than that. But that’s okay.
I’m so much happier with this system and all-in-all it’s helping me offer way better service. So I’m sticking to it!
Even if you’re not ready to embrace the full email batching + processing system, I HIGHLY recommend taking email notifications off your phone. It really was the best decision ever.
Plus, okay. I really just wanna share my gif again. 😉
join the convo
How often do you check your email?
How do you keep on top of your inbox?
Do you have another method that helps you feel in control of it all?