4 email hacks to spend less time in your inbox
So you've realized that your inbox is becoming a major time-wasting black hole, eh?
I hear yeh. It's the case for most people, my friend Victoria is the epitome of an absolute slave to email. I'll tell you her story first, or if you're just interested in my 4 killer strategies to spend less time in your inbox, scroll on down.
“I have SO much work to do,” Victoria said helplessly as I walked into the office.
Then in a slight panic, “I spent 3 HOURS between classes this morning in my email booking appointments! I have a test tomorrow I haven’t studied for, 2 classes I need to prepare to teach later today and a midterm due that I’ve only finished half of the calculations for. I’m going to be up all night doing it and I need to be back in the office tomorrow at 6 AM!”
You could see the overwhelm in her face and tone of voice as she continued. This was the daily report I’d hear from my desk neighbour at work.
We were both instructing classes for our university, and completing our Master’s degrees. She had also taken on a PhD level research project on the side for which she needed over 200 research participants. (Girls is both smart and a high achiever, there’s no question).
Her email was, however, a constant explosion, 30 unread messages peppered throughout, all needing a detailed response and appointments booked. They each took forever to respond to, and she sat day after day fighting to finally get her inbox to 0, which never happened.
Her GCal was a nightmare of coloured blocks from 6 AM - 10 PM.
The appointments for the research project had very specific needs. The first had to be 1 hour, the second had to be the next week, no later, and 2 hours long. She had to work them around her class schedule, the classes she was teaching, and possibly break them up between herself and her research assistant depending on their availability. She would respond with available times, and by the time the person got back to her, those might well be full, so she would have to propose more.
“I got my emails down 15 this morning, and of course then I got 20 more, and people KEEP changing their appointment times, or forgetting to show up and I need to reschedule them! … Undergrads” she vented.
“Get an appointment booking program already!” I told her.
No matter how long she spent in her email each day booking appointments and panicked moments of too much work and too little time that she told me about, she wouldn’t change her system.
Victoria will never be free of her inbox.
Some people are workhorses, Victoria no doubt is. There’s a satisfaction that comes with being a hard worker, and I understand that.
But to get off the hamster wheel of non-stop work requires some time to regroup and put a system in place, to lessen work in the long run.
Call me lazy, I don’t care. I call it working smarter, not harder.
So, for all the Victoria’s out there, who have finally had enough, and don’t want to spend even 1 more unnecessary minute in their inbox...
Here are 4 easy, you-can-implement-today tricks to free yourself from your inbox
The most obvious for Victoria, which is a common time-killer is appointment scheduling.
1. Pick the best appointment scheduler for you
Instead of spending an ungodly amount of time with back and forth emails trying to settle on a date and time, pick an appointment scheduler.
Doodle allows you to easily schedule appoints with multiple people, to find a time that works for everyone.
Calendly integrates into your GCal or Office 365 calendar, and only displays free times between your current appointments. Calendly will add new appointments to your calendar automatically, allows for team scheduling, sends appointment reminder notifications, and allows people to reschedule online without ever emailing you.
Acuity (which I cover in more detail in this post) allows people to both book appointments and pay for those appointments at the same time. It’s perfect for coaches and service-based business owners who are paid for their time. You can get quite complex with the rules about when appointments can be booked, at what times certain types of appointments are available, etc. Again, it integrates with your calendar, and may send reminders to both yourself and the other person.
2. Auto-label emails
Auto-labeling emails has helped me in my website design business in two main ways.
Once a week, I settle my income and expenses. This used to involve me trying to remember from where I was paid and incurred expenses, and searching through my email to find all the details for my accounting system. Now I have my expenses and income emails setup to auto-label themselves.
Here’s what it looks like in action.
I am charged every month for my ConvertKit plan. The bill always comes from the same email, firstname.lastname@example.org, and includes the word ‘invoice’. This is how I set it up to auto-label itself.
Click the down arrow in the Gmail search bar > type email@example.com in the from field, and word ‘invoice’ in the ‘Has the words’ field > in the bottom right click ‘create filter with this search’ > click ‘mark as read’ and ‘apply the label’ > click the Income + Expenses label > click ‘Create Filter’
I also do this with my Stripe payments. Now, once a week I don’t need to hunt through my emails, and chance missing an income or expense email. I visit the ‘Income + Expenses’ label, and all the emails are in one place.
I also do this with website design client emails. I set up a label with their name when I take them on as a client and set up the filter to auto-label all of the emails from their address.
Auto labelling without a doubt saves me hours each week I would otherwise spend hunting through my inbox. Not to mention, I foresee this being a massive help come tax time.
3. Use canned responses or email templates
In Gmail ‘canned responses’ are the function by which you create an email once, save it as a canned response, and reply with it to relevant emails. I’ve used this on my blogs before primarily to respond to sponsored post offers and guest post inquiries that don’t fit with my blog.
If you find yourself similarly sending out some variation of the same email multiple times, this is perfect. Enable the function by:
Click the gear icon in the top right > click ‘settings’ > click ‘labs’ > click ‘enable’ beside ‘Canned Responses’.
Then, when you want to quickly respond to an email with your canned response
Click the down arrow beside the garbage can > click ‘canned response’ > click the name of your saved ‘canned response’. The email will auto-fill with the response, and send it away.
4. MixMax or Boomerang to remind of follow ups
Mixmax and Boomerang are the perfect super-charging programs to outfit your email with. While there are many things MixMax and Boomerang can do for you, one way they can help free you from your inbox is to remind you to follow up with others.
Have you ever written down in a planner or on a to-do list ‘remember to follow up with so-and-so’?
Instead, tick a box on MixMax or Boomerang to bring that email back to the top of your inbox on a set day to remind you to follow up.
*Victoria's real name has been changed for privacy purposes.