Ahh email. Without a doubt it is the biggest blessing and curse of the modern era. Nothing else has connected us so quickly whilst simultaneously frustrating us so entirely!
Before I started the Green Room I had a series on the blog called ‘post it notes’ where each week I would share one ‘note’ about wedding planning and another with a short business tip. One of the most well received posts by a mile was one where I shared how I organise my insane inbox. It was less of a note though and more of a friggin’ essay. But it was really popular and so today I thought I’d revisit it with extra tips and some more recent updates.
You can thank me later.
I get a lot of emails. And when I say ‘a lot’ I mean a mothereffinghugeamount. At least 50 submissions hit my inbox on a daily basis, nestled in nicely with about another 200-300 other messages ranging from advertising requests, press releases, press enquires and messages from brides or bloggers asking advice. And no I’m not exaggerating those numbers. I wish I was.
There is nothing worse than sending an email and not hearing anything back for weeks (or not at all!) It’s rude, unprofessional and it gives a bad impression of how you run your business. No matter how busy you are, replying to all your emails should be a top priority for everyone. No question. Unless it’s a dreaded ‘dear blogger’ email or one that’s clearly been spammed out to everyone on their mailing list, every email I receive gets some sort of reply. Some are short and sweet, others are more thought out, but it is a priority I’ve chosen to make for my business.
If it’s not clear to you already, let me put you straight – I am an email freak. Gareth often comments how I chew through emails like nobody’s business! I don’t by any means think my system is the most efficient; but it works for me and that’s the most important thing. The key to conquering something like email – that needs constant attention or it will spiral out of control – is to have a very regimented system. In a way the actual techniques you employ don’t really matter as long as you have ones that work for you.
I use Thunderbird as my email client. It works great for me because I can colour code, set up folders to keep things in check and send template replies with just a few clicks of my mouse. You can also have more than one email address hosted within the one system, which is really useful for me as I’m also in charge of The Blogcademy email account.
Here are the techniques I use that keep me sane:
Set a routine
Email can easily take over your life if you let it. But like anything, having a set routine is the best way to keep that beast under control. My advice would be to set yourself a rule as to what time of day, and for how long each day, you will dedicate to your email. No more, no less. Doing this will not only make you accountable because you then have to do it every day, but within no time at all it will become ingrained into your routine making it a lot easier to keep on top of.
If you let it, email can take over your life. This is not healthy for anyone and can actually be detrimental to your business. Before you know it it’s 5pm and you haven’t achieved anything else! If you do feel like you’re spending too much time lost in the void, set yourself a predetermined amount of time every day for it – maybe an hour first thing in the morning. Set an alarm and stop as soon as your allotted time is up. Don’t feel guilty about not getting down the that holy grail of ‘inbox zero’. If you have your routine in place and you know you’re going to get back to it at the same time tomorrow, your reply turnaround will still be more efficient than without any system in place at all.
Use your phone
When I’m out and about or away from the office for a prolonged period of time, I regularly check my email on my phone. I delete anything that I can straight away like spam, automatic notifications or anything that doesn’t need a reply or action on my part. That way I have less things to deal with when I’m back in front of my computer. Simple but oh so effective.
Colour coding is my best friend. I want to make it a friendship bracelet and sit around plaiting its hair. It has not only saved me a huge heap of time, it allows me to keep things organised – and being organised is the key ingredient to email conquering success!
Every morning I go through all my unread emails and anything that doesn’t demand an immediate action gets marked in orange which means they are unread/unactioned. Once I’ve read and replied to an email it then either gets filed in its appropriate folder (more on folders further down the article) or re-coloured.
If I have to do something in response to an email (ie create an invoice, email someone else about it) I mark it blue, which means ‘to do’. If something is urgent, (ie a magazine deadline has been brought forward or I have to edit something in a live blog post) I mark it red. If something needs to be done but I’m still waiting on someone to send me something before I can crack on with it I mark it in purple. I can then see, with just a cursory glance, what stage every email is at and what else I need to do with it.
Once all my urgent emails are replied too I can start going through the orange emails (which for me are usually submissions or requests for advertising info) at a more leisurely pace.
After an extra cup of coffee, I go through my inbox chronologically. My emails can be usually broken down into seven categories (I bet yours can too). Most of the emails I receive fall into the following:
Real wedding/photo shoot submissions
Generic submissions/PR press releases
Reader questions/people asking for advice
Misc and more casual messages from friends
Identifying what each of your categories are is imperative to streamlining your responses. I try to tackle each category at one time (in order of importance) and for me, the colour coding system helps me keep on track. The junk and the generic press releases automatically get deleted (I am not a fan of the impersonal press release if you can’t already tell!) I then generally reply to the advertising enquiries, the press requests and then the submissions… You could just work through the whole lot chronologically but for me, it works better to do them in batches (with mini breaks in between of course!)
If you only take one thing from this article let it be this: template replies will transform your life.
After spending way too many hours writing personalised replies to every email that I got, I realised that most of them could actually have the same response. There’s only so many ways you can accept or reject a submission after all! This may mean that not everyone gets a bespoke response, but everyone does get a reply – whether they email me a submission or just drop me a line to say they like the website. This keeps people happy and makes me look good! As I said before, making an effort to reply to all your emails – however trivial they may seem – is the best way to show people that you care.
Firstly, don’t feel bad about setting up template emails. I think that as long as you make the effort to use peoples names when you reply, it’s a massive time saver. If you find yourself writing the same emails over and over then do yourself a favour and make yourself a template for it. Honestly, it will give you your life back.
As a side note, I use a plugin for Thunderbird called ‘Quicktext’ to manage my templates. All I have to do it write out each draft once and then save it under a name that quickly describes what the reply is for (for example I have ‘Submission yes’, ‘Submission no’, ‘Advertising yes’, ‘Advertising no’, ‘Payment methods’, ‘Magazine dispatch’… etc etc)
Then, when I want to use a template all I have to do is right click > select ‘Quicktext’ > select the template > voila! it’s inserted into the email. I can then go in to the email itself and add any personalisations I need to, for example the person’s name.
The other way I keep my inbox de-cluttered is by filing emails into folders (as mentioned above). My Rock n Roll Bride email has a bunch of different folders where I put each email once it’s been completely dealt with. Some of my folders include ‘Advertising’, ‘Reader questions’, ‘Magazine orders’, ‘Press’ & ‘To do’. Anything that doesn’t fit into one of my many folders gets filed into one big folder aptly titled ‘Rock n Roll Bride’.
I also use a colour coding system within some of these these folders (I told you I was obsessed!) For example, when I have everything I need for a submission to be written up (full set of images and questionnaire from the couple) it goes into the ‘To do’ folder and gets marked in blue. I then know when a submission is ready to be blogged. I go through this folder chronologically so I know when to publish each wedding so I don’t miss anyone out.
My system of colours and filing may seem a little over-zealous, but having a regimented system like this helps keep my mind free of clutter, my inbox numbers low and my ability to search for old emails speedy. My system won’t be for everyone, but finding a way that works for you should be. I’d encourage you to take some time to work out how you’re going to tame that email monster of yours (feel free to steal my ideas or come up with your own!) but make sure to always keep it fed and watered and to take it out for a walk at least once a day.
Good luck everyone!
- Photography: Joanna Brown Photography