Email: it’s a monster whose favorite snack is your precious time. On average, you spend thirteen hours a week tackling your email.
But if you’re a Customer Success Manager (CSM) or a customer support rep, you know it’s more than that. And while attending to your email isn’t exactly a waste of time, it can be a waste of energy and an easy excuse to lose focus on the task at hand.
But what are you supposed to do when your role is to be customer-facing and responsive? You can’t just let your inbox fall by the wayside (even though you know that it’s totally impossible to keep up with the avalanche of emails, questions, CC’s and BCC’s and tickets crashing into your inbox each day), but you also know that your job isn’t just to answer emails: it’s to get what the customer needs done.
Luckily, it’s easy. All you need is a little organization and self-discipline (plus a little bit of zen, too). Doesn’t sound like you? No problem. That’s why this list is here.
Let’s make the monster a little less scary. Here are five email management tips to help you reign in the animal that your email has become.
5 Email Management Tips to Help You Get Your Work Life Back
1. Shut Off Your Notifications
Okay, wait: the first tip is about ignoring your email?
Yes, and I’ll tell you why.
On average, we check our email about 15 times a day. That’s 15 times you’re turning away from the deliverable in order to tackle an ever-growing problem. You won’t win when you respond (or even pay attention) to every email that crosses your line of sight. It’s even easier to get distracted when little notifications pop up in the corner of your screen, or you hear a little ding! every time you get an email.
So, shut off notifications: it will help you stay on track, it will allow you to find the discipline to check email only when it’s needed, and, as an added bonus, it saves you from any weird or distracting moments on a screen-sharing call with a customer.
2. Schedule Specific Times During the Day to Attend to Email
There’s actually science behind how many times you should be checking your email daily to reduce stress. The magic number is three. Maybe it’s first thing in the morning, and then again after lunch. Maybe it changes based on the day’s priorities. But the fact is that checking your email obsessively can actually increase stress. At any rate, attempting to add some structure to your email-checking can make all the difference, and it can give you ample time to sort and prioritize (and even help you set major tasks or quick wins for the day).
That said, limit your email time. Sarah Green Carmichael, executive editor at the Harvard Business Times, said that this tip didn’t work for her because one email check-in session would just bleed into the next one. Set a limit on this allotted time in order to avoid email taking over your day: only allow yourself an hour or so to take care of your most pressing messages.
A couple things:
First, not all email is created equal. The newsletters and cute team emails crowding your inbox aren’t as pressing as customer inquiries or a meeting invite you haven’t yet responded to. Sort and identify the emails that really need attention. Look for emails that are promotional and of no use to you and delete them. Archive emails that don’t need a response, or that you can get back to later. Now, look around: what needs attention?
Second, consider the “Two Minute Rule” -- if you can read and respond to an email in two minutes, why not take care of it now? It’ll save you hassle in the long run. Quick wins can help you feel in control, so don’t wait when you don’t have to.
4. Use Tools & Technology
Ah, the 21st-century: chock-full of tips, tricks, tools, and technologies explicitly meant to make your life easier. Email organization is no exception. If you’re truly ready to go on a full-on email purge and reorganization session, there are tons of tools out there that can help you get rid of/organize/review emails. A few:
Essentially acting as your email follow-up assistant, FollowUpThen takes form as an additional email address that you can CC, BCC, or send directly to you on an email you need to follow up on later. Then, set your time: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. Viola -- you’ll be reminded to “follow up then.”
It stands for If This, Then That, and it can help you automate tedious manual tasks. For example, you can use the tool to send email attachments straight to Dropbox, or turn emails into Trello cards, or get a text message every time you get an email from a specific someone. Sweet!
My favorite on this list is Sortd, which helps you cleanly organize your inbox, sort emails into visual columns, and drag-and-drop to-dos. It’s pretty awesome, intuitive, and it has a free version.
There’s more where these came from. Check out this blog post to see more awesome email management tools.
5. Use Canned Responses
You might find yourself sending the same email replies over and over again. Whether you’re answering questions for customers about pricing or how to use a tool, it’s a safe assumption that no matter what your product or service, you will quickly come up with a list of frequently-asked questions. Instead of getting frustrated, turn that into resources that you can use to help your customers -- and save you time.
If you want to create more time in your workflow by optimizing your email strategy, consider building and creating knowledge base content so your customers can educate and teach themselves how to use your product -- without having to send you an email or hop on a phone call. Your customers would rather find the answers to the questions they need, quickly and while staying online, and knowledge base content can rank on search engine results pages (SERPs) to help your customers find the information they need as quickly as possible. (Another option for this is creating an FAQ page on your own website.)
Once you have some shortcuts on your site to answer those common questions that take up a lot of your time, set up a few canned responses in your email provider that you can quickly and easily send to point your customers in the right direction. (Learn how to set them up and what templates you might consider using.)
6. Let Go
There was an Inbox Zero craze earlier this decade, and many people were into it: the pursuit of perfection plagues us all, and email is no exception. But Inbox Zero, for most, is impossible. Release the need to read every email. It’s just one of your daily to-do’s, not the only to-do.
Be honest with yourself -- how much email can you get through today? Based on your current deadlines, goals, and promises, does it make sense to check your email three times today, or only twice? Adding structure to your email gives you a chance to give other tasks attention.
Email is only part of your job. Try to achieve some office zen and release the need to clear it all out right now. That will allow you to clear your head and feel like you’re on the right track.
How many times did you check your email today? Try these tips and challenge yourself to be disciplined -- and gain countless man-hours back to your workday.