I’ve been asked about, this and we’ve had many discussions in our ABBO group on Facebook, about having a good process for staying on top of our e-mails and cleaning out our inbox. Not all business models require this. If your primary function is customer service, for example, then 98% of your e-mails are going to be things you can respond to quickly, get it done and move on. The accounting and bookkeeping field is very different in this regard. We’re receiving e-mails all day from clients and prospects, and many of them represent tasks with detailed information needed to follow up. It’s not a simple matter of going through your e-mails, and replying, and you’re done. We need a process.
After struggling with this myself quite a bit, I have nailed it down. I have a system that works really well. I can still get backlogged, and things may take longer than I hope or promise people now and then, but it’s VERY rare, if ever that I lose something, or it slips through the cracks.
Here is my Zero E-mail In-box Process. I have a daily process, and then a weekly. The weekly part is broken down further into two parts. Therefore this is a 3 part series. All of this could be done daily if you wanted to. I have not found that necessary, although if I am feeling overwhelmed, or like I need to get a better handle on things, I have been known to affect the entire process in the middle of my weekly cycle.
By setting up a weekly process, I know that nothing will ever go more than 7 days without being touched. Most things can wait. The daily process is designed to ensure that I touch everything that needs at least some kind of response or acknowledgement within 24 hours.
I use Google Apps for work, which means I use the Gmail client. I have my e-mail configured with the “Priority Inbox.” This can be accessed from the settings within Gmail. Google is pretty smart about figuring out which e-mails are important based on the senders and the content.
Either way, each day, and sometimes throughout, I filter my e-mails for all of the unread e-mails. Then I select all of them. Next I go through and de-select the ones I want to keep. This works out to be a much faster process, since most of what I receive is garbage. Then I can deal with the important ones I want to keep. Many e-mails are notifications that I like to get, but usually delete during this process. Sometimes during this process I might click over to (eg) a mention on Twitter, because I know I can respond in less than 30 seconds and be done with it. Then the e-mail can be deleted.
Watch the video for this section to see this in action. Then move on to Part 2 – Cleaning out the Inbox.
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