We’re big fans of email here at Benchmark, of course, but we also understand that they can be a huge drain on your time. Who hasn’t started a project only to keep getting distracted by that little notification bubble on their phone or desktop? And who among us can really claim membership in the exclusive – and elusive – “Inbox Zero” club?
As frustrating as it is, email is fundamental to how we do business today, especially in sales and marketing. Then it is a good idea to have some tactics in your back pocket that will allow you to keep productivity high while also managing the messages you get throughout the day.
Here are some email tricks and hacks that we’ve found helpful – and which we hope you will, too.
1. Organize your inbox
You wouldn’t organize all of your computer files in one folder. So why with your emails?
Not all of your emails are weighted or need to be addressed in the same amount of time. So use folders to organize and sort your messages appropriately, especially if they are messages that require immediate action or emails that you just need to refer to at a later date.
There are many different ways to organize your inbox. This means you may have to play around until you find a system that works best for you. A good place to start, however, is to create folders that sort your inbox by time frame rather than message type. Keep messages that need to be addressed immediately in your inbox and mark them as unread. Then create a folder for things to do this week, another for things to do this month or quarter, and an FYI folder for general messages that you might need to look at later.
The secret to keeping your email organized is to use your inbox like a folder itself – rather than just a catch-all for everything that comes in. If you receive a new message and it doesn’t need to be edited the same day, organize it in a different folder or delete it.
2. Implement a block system
How often do you receive an email that needs to be dealt with immediately? Chances are that high priority messages aren’t the norm – and that the person or people sending them to you have other ways to contact you if they do.
If you use a block system, all you have to do is set time slots that you check into your inbox instead of living in them all day. For example, you can check your email once in the morning, once right after lunch, and once before you sign out for that day.
By going this route, you won’t be constantly distracted by what’s going on in your inbox while keeping track of everything that comes in. And it’s far more productive than it appears to break your train of thought every time a new message is sent. Just turn off notifications or remove your email app from your desktop toolbar so you can better stick to your blocking plan.
3. Use productivity tools
There are many (and many) email productivity tools that can help you better sort out spam and send you automatic reply reminders. There are also apps that can put your inbox on Do Not Disturb mode so you can keep your blocks.
With so many productivity tools to choose from, it is worth doing some research to determine which will be most useful for your needs. Some of our favorites are Boomerang, SaneBox, and ActiveInbox, which allow you to gain more control over your inbox without starting a steep learning curve.
4. Use predefined answers if necessary
We all want to send thoughtful, personalized replies to every message we receive, but sometimes you’re in the weeds and all you need to do is get your replies out and get them out quickly. In these cases, it’s okay to stick to predefined responses that you can set up beforehand in your inbox settings.
Potted responses are simply templates that you can jump to when you don’t have time for a more thorough answer. We don’t recommend using them all the time, but they can be a lifesaver if you are behind. For example, if someone requests a meeting but you don’t have time to open and coordinate your schedule, you can send a pre-defined response with a link to your online calendar. It’s faster and easier than coordinating yourself, and you don’t have to bother writing the same answer every time.
Better inboxes are possible! Try the tips and tricks above and take control of your inbox once and for all.