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.
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.
If any part of your business involves matching up your availability with someone else’s a scheduling tool is a critical piece of the automation puzzle. And no tool does the task better than Acuity Scheduling.
I tried many different scheduling tools before falling in love with this one. None of them were as flexible or user-friendly as Acuity Scheduling.
If you’re tired of all the back and forth headaches caused by scheduling, there’s a lot about Acuity Scheduling you’ll love.
Here are my top five things to love about Acuity:
It’s like having a full-time assistant.
Don’t get me wrong, I love having a real assistant, but Acuity brings another active layer to the table because it works 24/7 for me on a very slim budget (and I’d never treat a human-like that). Acuity is always there to help people book an appointment with me, and it’s always done right. My clients book themselves right into my calendar without any ongoing effort on my part—even while I’m on a wifi-free hike with my kids.
It helps me avoid email.
This goes hand in hand with that last part. I absolutely hated the back and forth emails trying to schedule calls with people. It was the bane of my existence when it came to onboarding clients. Figuring out who’s available when juggling time zones and missing emails are all a thing of the past.
Everyone gets the information they need when they need it.
I use questionnaires during booking to make sure I have all of the information I need before we get on the phone which keeps calls short and fluid. And my clients get all of the details they need to prepare (including meeting links and reminders). Best of all, I never have to lift a finger or risk forgetting to send that reminder.
Acuity plays nice with other tools, too.
I love integrating right with Zoom, ConvertKit, and Trello. I don’t have to waste time creating meeting links for each appointment, getting clients on my list, or setting up workflows for them in Trello. It all just hums along in the background making my life simpler so I have more energy to help transform my clients’ businesses.
It makes me look good!
But more importantly, it helps my clients feel well taken care of. They don’t have to wait on me to send them available times, forms, or invoices. They get all of the information they need to work with me quickly and organized. Detailed, timely reminders, and me being prepared upfront for our calls because I used a well-thought-out intake form mean that our meetings aren’t fraught with issues from the start. The more professional my process feels the more taken care of my client feels.
As a bonus, here are a few more things I love about Acuity Scheduling:
Acuity Scheduling is FLEXIBLE.
I love that the founder created Acuity Scheduling to solve an issue for his mother’s massage practice. But as it grew, he saw that other industries needed this same sort of tool. Whether you’re a massage therapist, a life coach, own a yoga studio, or run a photography business, Acuity can be customized to fit your needs. Acuity works if you have multiple locations, multiple employees, or you’re doing this whole entrepreneur thing on your own.
Acuity Scheduling is budget-friendly.
Other similar tools can cost over $100 per month, and they seem to just keep raising their prices. Acuity Scheduling starts at free and goes up to $50 per month if you need really advanced features. Most businesses fall in their $15 or $25 per month plan.
Not only have they structured their pricing so that you only pay for the features you need, and then they took it one step further: you also only pay for the support you need. With any plan level, you get access to their extensive self-help knowledge base, frequent live webinars, amazing customer support team via email, and their well-managed user community on Facebook. To keep their pricing so budget-friendly, they’ve outsourced more personal, advanced help to their Acuity Certified Experts.
You can read more about the program here, but in a nutshell, they partner with business systems experts like me to bring a variety of 1-on-1 support options tailored to your business and needs that you can pay for separately. Whether you’re looking for a done-for-you set up or just need 30 minutes of on-screen help, there’s an A.C.E. out there that fits your budget, needs, and schedule so that you can make the most out of Acuity Scheduling for your business.
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.
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.
I recently made the case for having and using fewer apps (phone apps, computer apps, web apps—all of the tools, resources, and platforms we are bombarded with as business owners).So today I want to talk about which apps I’ve chosen to invest in and why.
Every business should have a few core apps that are used to run the majority of their systems.The fewer there are, the leaner and simpler your business will run.Fewer overhead costs, fewer passwords to remember, and less brainpower needed for your day-to-day tasks.
So without further ado, let’s dive into the core apps I use:
Without a doubt, this is my absolute core app for my business.If you are any sort of coach, designer, or other service provider, this may be a great fit for you!If you’re a Maker, it might not be. Dubsado houses my forms, questionnaires, proposals, contracts, invoices, client portal, process checklists, and even my bookkeeping. Once upon a time, I had separate tools for most of these tasks, and I don’t miss that one bit.
If you’re in business online, you need an email list—it’s non-negotiable.I won’t wax poetic about the importance of email marketing in this post, but suffice it to say it’s so important that your email marketing platform is automatically a core app.For my business, I chose ConvertKit.It provides a lot of flexibility for the type of business I have, and it’s automation and segmentation features are top-notch.If you are a product-based business, super budget-conscious, or for some other reasons feel the need for “pretty” emails, then I would recommend MailChimp.If you are a blogger or content creator, ConvertKit is absolutely worth the investment.
This is another wonderful multi-tasking tool and if you’re a content creator, add this one to your toolbox.CoSchedule serves as both an editorial calendar (for all types of media, not just WordPress) and a social media scheduler. I love that it does the heavy lifting of deciding when to post to my channels–it’s like having a social media manager, without having to hire a social media manager.
G Suite (formerly Google Apps for Work)
I waffled on including this in my core, but it really does belong here.Your business email is important.If you’re still using firstname.lastname@example.org or your email is part of your hosting account, I urge you to invest in the $5/month for this email solution.The former is simply unprofessional (and yes, your potential clients notice) and the latter puts you at unnecessary risk of being unreachable if your site goes down (and that’s particularly important if you’re on shared hosting). This is an inexpensive fix that will save you a lot of headache down the road.Not to mention, the features of G Suite allow for amazing automation that will make managing your inbox a breeze. P.S. 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).
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Okay, so those are my absolute core apps.If I was weathering a financial storm that sent me to bare bones, these are the ones I would absolutely find a way to keep paying for.The next set of apps are my “nice to have”.
Okay, so this one is almost a bridge to my core apps.I would fight to keep it, but ultimately, there is a free option that I could move down to if needed.If you offer appointments of any kind, Acuity Scheduling is like a personal assistant that doesn’t need to take sick days.If you book any sort of session with me, you’ll see it in action.It helps you find a time, collects the information I need to make your session a breeze, and if necessary, takes your payment.And it even sends reminders to both of us (and that’s drastically reduced the number of no-shows I was dealing with).
Again, there’s a free version of this that may work for some people. Zoom integrates beautifully with Acuity Scheduling so each appointment is booked with a meeting link.Audio-only, video, or screen-sharing calls are all supported and you can record the session with a click.It even offers webinars as an add-on so you can hold workshops without setting up yet another tool.
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And now for the free apps that simply make my life easier:
This is included in G Suite, or with your free Gmail account if I didn’t sell you on upgrading.If anything you do involves sharing any sort of file with your clients, this is a simple solution.Not to mention, storing client files in the cloud protects you from inevitable computer crashes and allows you to work on the fly.Of course, there are options like DropBox, OneDrive, and many others—but for simplicity’s sake, you probably already have this, so use it.I consider it part of my G Suite core but thought it deserved it’s own mention, same goes for the next app.
I’ve talked before about the importance of using a digital calendar.Again, it’s free and already included with accounts you surely have.I have mine synced with Dubsado and Acuity and I’d be lost without it.The reminder feature has been a great addition and I use it frequently.
Trello or Asana
Confession, I have both of these still, but there’s really no reason for you to have both.If you are a list person, go with Asana, if you’re more visual, Trello is probably the right tool for you.Or maybe you don’t need either one, and that’s cool, too.Right now, I primarily use Asana with my main retainer client because it was the best for their business model and their team was familiar with it.Personally, Trello eventually grew on me and it seems to be easier for my husband to use since it’s more visual.It’s my catch-all for ideas, login info, and bookmarks.It is one of the few areas that contains both business and personal, but it handles it beautifully and replaced a handful of apps.Note: if you are only using it for business, you’ll find similar features in Dubsado.I’ve been using Trello since before Dubsado added task boards and just haven’t made time to transfer my data over.
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There are a handful of other apps and tools I use, but these are what’s in my basic toolbox and what I would recommend any new business owner invest time, money and energy into.If you’re missing any of these basic functions, I urge you to consider your options and cover these bases. At the very least you need:
A CRM (customer relationship manager)
A bookkeeping/invoicing system
An email marketing platform
An email service provider
A calendar and a project manager (but can be analog if you’re a solopreneur)
Anything beyond these is completely dependent on the type of business you’re running.A photographer will need something different than an apparel designer or other product maker.A content creator’s toolbox will look different than a graphic designer’s.
What core apps do you find invaluable in your business? I’d love to hear!
If you’re like me, your social media feeds are filled with tutorials and sponsored ads for various apps, tools, and platforms that say they’ll help you streamline your business and double your revenue.Seriously, google “project management” or “Asana” once and those lovely algorithms will have you seeing tools like this everywhere you go.Dive into any entrepreneur community and you’ll see discussions galore about which ones are better, and people shoving affiliate links each other.Don’t get me wrong, they do it with the best of intentions, but for an overwhelmed entrepreneur, this simply isn’t helpful.
And worse, some of us are prone to going to the shiny object syndrome of new tools.We want to try them all and spend so much time setting new ones up, learning their features, and transferring our data—that’s time we really ought to be working in or on our business. “Free Trials” have made this even worse because the only thing we have to give up is time and brain power (and for some reason, we subconsciously value those less than money).
So let me make the case for fewer apps.
Note: In this case, I’m going to use “app” to refer to everything from apps on your mobile phone, to apps on your laptop or desktop, to web apps.It’s a broad paintbrush for all of those tools and platforms we might be using in our business.
The more apps you have, the more time you spend looking at apps.And unless you’re an app developer, that’s probably not the most productive thing for your business.
“There’s an app for that”
Just because there is an app for that, doesn’t mean you should download it.Do you really need an app for that?Do you already have an app that can do that?I found myself looking at task/reminder apps the other day, but I already have Trello, Evernote, and Gmail which can effectively do just that thing.I also at one point had an app for dutch oven cook times.Seriously, a printed version tossed in the camping cookbook worked just as well (and was still available when my phone died).
Also, just because it’s a free app doesn’t mean you need to use it.Just sayin’.
Having too many apps is counterproductive to using them to streamline.
Having more apps than necessary complicates your business systems.More moving pieces means more things likely to break.It also means more for you to remember.I’m sure you’ve been there.Did I write that down in Evernote or make a card in Trello?Maybe it’s in the client notes on Dubsado.Or maybe the pad of sticky notes I spilled coffee on yesterday. Ugh.
It costs money.
Ah, I could go on for ages about why having fewer overhead costs is good for your business, and maybe someday soon I’ll write a post dedicated to running a lean business.Most of the good apps, to get the features we want, cost money.Most of them aren’t that expensive, but those little monthly subscriptions add up fast.And those annual ones are easy to forget about when you’re factoring your costs. Really evaluate an app before you shell out money for it.Is the free version good enough?Is there a cheaper alternative?Is there a direct revenue benefit with this purchase?
Good areas to drop money on a good app are where your money is managed, or you can avoid hiring someone.That means paying for a good CRM to manage your invoices, a good bookkeeping app, and a reliable social media scheduler.These may vary depending on your particular business and skills, but I find these three + an email marketing platform are the core apps that every online business needs.
Take a look at what apps you’re paying for.Be sure to look for those forgotten annual payments.And then look at all of the apps on your phone.How many do you use on a daily basis?How many on weekly basis?Anything not in those two groups could probably be discarded.Freeing up valuable resources in your business starts with reducing the amount of tools you rely on and make sure you’re squeezing every drop out of the ones you keep.
What apps can you not live without? Are there any that you feel you should be using better? Which apps were quick deletes? I’d love to know.