There’s no replacement for having a solid routine when it comes to managing the myriad of communications that make up our day. But when you’re drowning under the constant barrage of emails and notifications, it can be hard to establish one. Use these quick inbox hacks to triage your inbox and create some breathing room.
I always start with the inbox because it’s usually the cornerstone of entrepreneurial anxiety. It’s the main place where other people’s expectations come knocking. And it’s usually someplace we completely lack boundaries.
I won’t promise you will love your inbox, but I will tell you it’s possible to release its stranglehold on your life and confidently ignore it for hours (or even days) without it turning into a three-ring circus.
Inbox Hacks & Workflows Video
Here’s a quick summary of what I cover in the Inbox Hacks & Workflows video:
3 Quick Wins to Tame Your Inbox
Unsubscribe! – It only takes a few seconds but if you aren’t regularly opening and reading, it’s time to unsubscribe. They won’t be offended, you’re actually helping their open rates!
2 Minute Rule – If it can be done in under two minutes, do it while you’re processing your inbox. If it can’t, move the task to your to-do list with a specific time to get it done.
Reduce your notifications. – Set times to check your email and stop letting notifications distract you. If you do have client emails you need notifications for, tailor your notification settings to only allow those.
Each week I conduct a live training like this during my Business Systems Office Hour. After the training, the rest of the hour is a live Q&A session–and the questions don’t even have to relate to the training! Learn more here.
For most of us, the first thing we check when we log into our computers is our email.
And if you only have one email, I’m shocked.
So whether we’re bouncing from tab to tab or app to app, the first thing we see each day is a long list of people wanting our attention. Clients have questions, businesses want us to buy things, bills want to be paid.
And it’s all right there staring us in the face before we’ve even gotten that first gulp of coffee down.
And then we have to deal with it.
We have to delete the sales emails we don’t care about, somehow flag the emails that we can’t answer right this second, but don’t want to forget about, and reply to at least a handful (which just means there will be new emails to deal with before long).
Before you know it, it’s 45 minutes later and the number of emails in your inbox has barely changed.
And all of those emails left are there to taunt us as unfinished tasks. Knowing they are there waiting for us makes us avoid our inbox.
But what if you had a system in place that actually allowed you to get to that fabled “inbox zero”?
What if your inbox sorted itself and left you with only a few clicks to get it all taken care of?
First, use an app that gives you control over more than one inbox at a time.
I don’t recommend simply forwarding all of your emails to one inbox, but use an app that will allow you to view multiple inboxes either together or separate. My choice for this is Spark.
Second, set up a reliable filing system for each inbox.
While the search function in most email apps is robust, a layer of organization is still good for you. My strategy is to use folders for clients, tools/resources, and people. This allows me to quickly navigate to what I need. I also recommend a label or folder title “@waiting” so that you can quickly review emails that need a follow-up, but they don’t bog up your inbox when there’s no current action for you to take.
Third, use filters to separate your main types of emails.
Spark automatically sorts emails into personal, newsletters, and notifications—and I’ll admit that it’s pretty accurate. All of your human-generated emails go to personal, so you can quickly see which REAL PEOPLE are asking you questions. Automated emails land themselves in notifications – at a quick glance, you’ll see emails from PayPal, etc all in one place. And lastly, you have newsletters, which is where you’ll find anything you’ve subscribed to.
If you need to take it a step further, you can create custom rules and filters in most email apps. If you have notifications coming in that you don’t want to turn off, but don’t need to take action on, you could create a filter or rule that automatically marks them read and files them away in the correct folder.
Fourth, create an email triage plan.
For me, this is a couple of times a day where I scan my inbox, reply to anything that takes less than 2 minutes and file away everything else. If it’s something that I will need to take action on later, I forward it to my task manager (Amazing Marvin) and file the email appropriately. This means that unless I need something specific, I can keep my email shut and focus on the actual work at hand.
Unsubscribe from all the things!
Look at what emails you actually open instead of just deleting. We subscribe to so many newsletters just so we can get a free download or resource, but if we’re not opening the emails after that, then receiving them doesn’t serve us or the sender. Sure, you feel bad about unsubscribing, but you really shouldn’t. It helps their deliverability and open rates if you unsubscribe because you’re no longer interested or opening their emails.
Sync your calendar.
Having emails automatically add meetings and events to your calendar reduces the actions you have to take.
Use different email addresses.
If you have *that much* going on, perhaps consider separate emails for certain things. For instance, a special email for current clients can help ensure you never miss another important email. It also makes it easier to give your assistant access when you’re on vacation or out sick. I’m also a huge fan of an admin@ email for all of the tools and platforms you sign up for.
It’s okay to let things linger. “Inbox zero” isn’t a perfect method. Having your inbox under control is important, but don’t let perfectionism eat you alive. It’s okay to leave emails that you need to follow up on, it’s okay to let newsletters sit until a designated reading time.
In my case, I leave appointment confirmations in the inbox until the appointment is over. This gives me quick access during their call, and a front-of-mind reminder to send a follow-up email. I also use the “pin” feature in Spark for any emails that are in a “waiting” status (think shipping notifications, ongoing email threads waiting for a reply).
What’s important is that everything has a system and that the system actually works for you.
So, first things first, let’s define what I mean by newsletter. If you’re old enough (ahem), the word likely brings to mind a folded four-page paper newsletter that you got monthly in the mail from say your church, community, or other groups. It featured announcements, meeting dates, and maybe even a member spotlight. It was how we kept in touch before Facebook groups and Slack revolutionized how we communicate.
And if that’s what you’re thinking of, your first reaction is probably “I don’t have time for creating that much more content!”
Excellent! Neither do I, so let’s simplify the idea of a newsletter. All I want you to do is regularly send something to your subscribers checking in with them and reminding them who you are and what you do. There are two main ways you can do this: a curated content newsletter or an exclusive content newsletter.
Make it personal! – Don’t just drop a link to your latest blog post and run. Write 2-3 lines that are from YOU. It doesn’t have to be a novel, but make that personal connection with your subscribers and remind them that there’s a real live person behind your brand. It can be a blurb about what you’re reading, what’s going on in your life (that’s at least semi-relevant to your niche), or a peek behind the scenes.
Recycle your content. – Let them know where you’ve been around the web lately or where you’ll be soon. Link to a recent Facebook post that’s been interactive, a recent guest post you’ve done, or tell them about an interview on a podcast that’s recent or upcoming so they can tune in.
Include a clear Call to Action. – The point of an email list is to get them back to your site to take an action on something. Share your content, book your service, buy your product. Keep the promotional part of your email to about 10%, but make it clear and don’t give too many CTAs.
Share the spotlight. – Feature a customer or community member. It serves as both a testimonial for you and spreads the love to your community. They’ll appreciate being featured, and it boosts your Know<Like<Trust factor all around.
Not every week needs to contain all of these items, but your subscribers will appreciate consistency. The great thing about this type of newsletter is that you aren’t having to sit down and come up with brand new, extra content. You’re curating it from things that already exist. Once you have a template going, you can knock this out in 20 minutes easy.
Essentially, this type of newsletter is like writing a blog post that only goes to your subscribers. This can be as simple as a behind the scenes feature or as involved as a free resource that is only available to subscribers. I like to write these for our lifestyle blog, Big Family Minimalist, as it allows me to share more personal facets of our journey with our subscribers that allows me to really connect with our follows and not have to worry about it being “polished” for a public blog post. Your exclusive content will depend on your business, but it can be a place to get a little vulnerable or something that packs a punch of extra value for your customers.
The exclusive content route is definitely a lot more involved than the curated content version, but the payoffs can be massive when it comes time to pitch them a product or service. By turning out exclusive content on a weekly basis, you’re training your subscribers to expect great resources from you. If you launch a new course after 2-3 months of sending weekly exclusive content on top of the other content you’re putting out on your blog and other channels, they will click and buy without hesitation because you’ve established both your expertise and your quality of work with them.
That said, I suggest going the exclusive content route only if busting out content is a strength of yours and you know you can commit to the extra work. If you’re producing 2-3 blog posts, a weekly YouTube video, regular social media content, and then adding on exclusive content for your list, you’ll burn out quickly if you don’t have methods and systems in place to make sure it all gets done. We’ll talk more about that soon!
Sending a consistent and frequent newsletter is important to the health of your list and you can read more about why in this post. If you think it’s too much work or too complicated, you need to scale back and choose a method that makes it simple. Don’t be afraid to create and use a curated content template. Anything sent out regularly is better than sending nothing until you’re ready to pitch your new product or service.
That’s what clients tell me when I mention that they should be sending out some sort of weekly newsletter. Yikes.
What they really mean is “I don’t have anything to sell.” For most of the clients I work with, they have only been using their list to pitch their subscribers a product or service. Usually, when they come to me it’s because they want help getting people on their list by way of new forms or lead magnets, and sometimes even a welcome sequence.
And then I baffle them by saying “Cool! So what do your subscribers get after this?”
I’ve heard every excuse under the sun for why people aren’t sending out a newsletter, and I’m here to tell you that they are all bullshit.
If you have an email list, you need to be sending out a weekly newsletter. Period. If the term “Newsletter” is throwing you off, check out this post I wrote about WHAT you should be sending. But for now, I want to focus on the WHY.
Your subscribers expect it from you.
Simply put, your subscribers signed up for this. They put their name and email in a form and said: “Yes, I want to hear from you.” So let them hear from you! This right here is the first step in setting up the expectation that you will follow through on what you’ll say you’ll do. If your newsletter subscription box said they’ll receive regular content, then guess what? Those subscribers are expecting regular content from you.
Oh, and if I had a dollar for every time someone told me “but every time I send, I get so many unsubscribes, and I can’t afford people unsubscribing.” Uhm, yes, you can. Unsubscribes are part of the natural lifecycle of your list. You WANT people to unsubscribe, so please don’t use that as an excuse not to send regular content.
It keeps your list from going stale. (Spam, open rates, etc)
Lists can go stale just like bread. I’d rather see a client come in with no list at all than a list of 3000 that they haven’t send to in nine months. When you let your list go stale, people forget about you. When people forget about you, they aren’t likely to open the next email you finally send out. When your open rate is low, you get sent to spam more often. And when you start getting sent automatically to spam often enough, you will have a heck of a time digging back out of that hole and reaching people’s inboxes again.
Prevention is simple, send often! And if you have a list that’s already stale and this scared you, start sending again sooner rather than later, but take the time to do some list maintenance while you’re at it. (Learn more about that here.)
It adds to your Know<Like<Trust value.
People buy from people. Your weekly newsletter is an opportunity to connect with your audience. Establish your expertise by providing value each and every week. And don’t forget to make it a two-way conversation by inviting them to reply or interact with you in some way.
The only way to hurt your brand by sending every week is to use your newsletter to shove your product or service down your subscribers’ throats. Don’t do that.
It can increase traffic to your site.
The main reason you have a newsletter is so that you can stay in touch with people that you hope will eventually buy your product or service. They make those purchases by coming back to your website, therefore the most basic goal of any email you send is to get people back to your site. So create CTAs that invite people back to your site. Don’t send your entire blog post in your subscribers, just send a teaser with a link back to your blog for them to read the rest.
And if you’re following the Exclusive Content newsletter model, give them another reason to click back like an additional resource or a link to a related blog post.
It’s not as difficult or time-consuming as you think.
Seriously, if your reason why not is because you don’t have the time or think it’s difficult–you’re creating excuses out of nowhere. If you’re really pressed for time, use the Curated Content model. Recycle content from other streams (your blog, your social media, your Facebook group, etc) and stick to a simple template. You can easily put out your newsletter in 20 minutes each week.
If it feels complicated, scale it down to something that feels simple, even if that means you’re just sending a quick 3-line note and a link to your latest blog post. Anything is better than nothing and the extra bit of effort will pay off when it’s time to leverage your list for your next product launch.
Sending a regular newsletter is the simplest way to keep your email list healthy and engaged. Properly nurturing your list during the period between welcoming and pitching your next product can have a drastic effect on your conversion rates. But remember, nurturing means providing resources and connecting with your audience, not hammering them with blatant sales pitches every week. Provide value and plenty of opportunities for your subscribers to connect with you and I can promise you’ll see better results on your next launch.
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
When settingup email marketing for clients, one of the most important suggestions I make is for people to sign up for a G Suite account. If you’re in business, having a reliable email service is a cornerstone and worth investing a little bit of money and time in setting up. Email is the lifeblood of online business and you don’t want to cut corners here. Sure you could get by with something else for a while, but it’s better to start strong and organized than to have to deal with switching over later. Many of my clients have asked why I’m so fanatic about this, so I thought I’d combine the answers I’ve given them over the years and create a resource that will help you if you’re not sure about making the leap to G Suite.
Using G Suite makes you look professional.
Nothing screams “I don’t value my business” like having an email address like “firstname.lastname@example.org”. And while “email@example.com” or “firstname.lastname@example.org” is a step in the right direction, it still reads “I don’t take my business seriously.” If you want to give a professional first impression, an email like “email@example.com” is a great place to start.
Bonus:The Oatmeal put out a fun little comic about what your email address says about your computer skills.
Your web host should not be your email host!
Now that you realize you need a domain-based email, you’re probably realizing your web hosting account came with one, you just never bothered to set it up. While that is an option, and it is better than clinging to your old Hotmail account, I would caution you against this. First, it’s not the simplest solution when you like to read your emails from multiple devices, but more on that later. Second, if your site goes down, your email goes down, too. That’s not ideal if you don’t want your customers (or readers) thinking you’ve fallen off the face of the earth. Sure, your hosting may have great uptime, but things happen that are beyond anyone’s control and I wouldn’t put my eggs all in one basket.
Your emails are more likely to make it into other people’s inboxes.
Some email sending services won’t even let you sign up for their platform without a domain-based email (like ConvertKit), while others do, but warn you that you may have deliverability issues (like MailChimp). See, it goes like this: your bulk emails sent from your @yahoo.com account make their way to your customer’s email server. That server throws up a red flag claiming you’re spam because it knows that that address shouldn’t be sending bulk emails. The more this happens, the fewer inboxes you land in. Without a domain-based email, you’ll land in more spam folders than inboxes. You also won’t be dealing with the dreaded blacklisted IPs that are common when using your web host’s email system.
In business, there are few things worse than realizing you never got that really important client email because your inbox was full. With G Suite, you have 30GB of space, and that’s pretty hard to fill. In 3.5 years, 15 different email addresses for 4 different businesses, my main account is hovering around 30% of my storage used, and I never delete anything, just archive it all.
Easy access from any device.
I mentioned this briefly before, but G Suite runs with the same simplicity as your good ol’ Gmail account. Apps galore, and works seamlessly even with iOS (trust me, I’m an Apple girl). And bonus, it’s easy to have your personal @gmail tagging along in the app right next to your domain-based email. And that goes for all of the other pieces like Google Cal and Drive, too! No more messing with IMAP or SMTP settings to get your email on your device or having to go back and delete or file things in two places because of a hiccup.
Aliases, filters, and organization–oh my!
G Suite offers an amazing amount of options for organizing your inbox. From their own tabs system to the ability to use filters, aliases, and labels, there’s no excuse for a messy inbox. You can manage multiple email addresses in one place, automatically add labels for messages you receive often, and even filter all of your newsletters away from your inbox so they’re there when you want them, but not suffocating your client messages. And if that’s not enough, there are many tools to take your organization even deeper like Labs, Boomerang, and Sortd.
Final Thoughts on Using G Suite…
I have a very simplistic view of running a business and don’t believe in having any more subscriptions or accounts than absolutely necessary. But after years of running businesses online and feeling overwhelmed by my inbox, I can say that G Suite is worth every penny. For one user, it’s a mere $5/month, and an additional $5/month for each user you add. Keep in mind, that’s per user, not per email address. So if you’re a solopreneur who wants to have firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org all funneling into your inbox, then you’re still looking at just a single user.
You can sign up for a free 14-Day trial of G Suite here. You can use these coupon codes for 20% your first year – MA4WAVA4L9QX9GT (for the G Suite Basic Plan) or W7XPREGEFUAKG7L (for the G Suite Business Plan).
And I made a thorough video tutorial on setting up your G Suite account, complete with establishing aliases and filters to keep your inbox organized. You can watch it by clicking here.