One of the things that I teach when I’m teaching people how to simplify their inbox is that you shouldn’t leave your inbox open all day. I get so much resistance to this. Everybody thinks that their inbox should be open because they need to be able to access things inside of it or answer emails as they come in. There’s just general resistance to shutting that email app or the browser window and not leaving it open. And I get it; we’re conditioned to put other people’s needs above our own and in business, that means being available and responsive 24/7. But that’s killing our attention spans and productivity. It costs us hours every day.
There are a couple of things you can do to get more comfortable with the idea of shutting your inbox for hours at a time.
The first thing that you can do is set the expectations of the people who email you the most.
In the grand scheme of things, you’re probably setting higher expectations on yourself than anyone else does. Your inbox shouldn’t be an instant messaging service, and unless your contract states otherwise, replies within 1 or 2 business days are perfectly reasonable under most circumstances. The only reason anyone expects a faster reply is because you’ve conditioned them to expect it by always replying within a couple of hours.
For people who are already in your inbox, try waiting an hour or two to reply and then slowly lengthen it out to four or five hours. Most likely, they won’t even notice the shift. If anyone does comment on it, you can simply let them know that they should expect a reply within 24 hours. Always set the expectation longer than you plan to check to give yourself some breathing room.
For new clients, establish that expectation right up front in your welcome packet. If needed for your industry, you can always create a guideline for urgent communication either through another channel or adding “URGENT” to the subject line.
You can also use your email signature or an autoresponder to help set those expectations.
Reduce the Flow
The second thing that you can do to get more comfortable with shutting your inbox is reducing the flow of what’s coming in. Second to “but what if someone needs me” is the complaint that if they wait a few hours, the number of emails will be overwhelming to deal with all at once and take too long.
There are two points I want to make here. The first is that batching is valuable. When you handle emails as they come in, they all seem important. When you process emails in a batch, you see them in contrast to each other, and it’s easier to prioritize, which in turn makes you more efficient. The second is that if it’s piling up that quickly, you have some unsubscribing to do.
The most straightforward place to reduce the flow is notification emails. If you are getting the notification in another more appropriate location, you don’t need the email, too. These days email notifications are almost always redundant. If it’s an email notification that a payment was processed, we probably got a push notification from Stripe as well as a notification from our cart platform or CRM. Disable all but the one that makes the most sense for you. If it’s a social media notification, we already got it in the appropriate app, where we can do something with it, so those can go, too. And do we need notifications for every new email subscriber or follower on Medium? Nope. And if you can’t disable them, set a filter to mark as read and archive them automatically.
There are three types of newsletters in our inboxes. There are the ones we actually read, the ones we think we’ll read and feel guilty about when we don’t get to them, and then ones we just delete. The first ones are keepers, the second ones you need to consider why you aren’t reading them, and then the rest need to hit the unsubscribe button. Unsubscribing is a friendly gesture—you’re helping their open rates! And I highly recommend creating a filter for newsletters so that you can tuck them away and read them when you have extra time versus letting them take up space in your inbox.
We all get these, we bought something or use a service, and it landed us on their marketing email list, as well. We don’t immediately unsubscribe because we still need some communications from these companies, but most of what they send is clutter that goes straight to trash when we deal with our inbox. Thankfully, these days segmenting is more popular, and you can adjust your email settings with these companies so that you are off their marketing lists but still receive relevant transactional emails. Take a few minutes and explore your email preferences and see what you can get rid of.
Another way you can reduce the flow is by diverting communications to other tools and apps. Diverting communications not only reduces the flow of emails that you have to deal with but can help keep conversations in context. Have your assistant or business associate communicate primarily through a project management tool or platform like Slack. And the same for clients. Keeping communications where the projects are happening means less reason to open your inbox through the day and get distracted by everything that’s come in.
And for the love of everything, keep your personal and business emails separate. Personal email can go way longer without being checked and is often much more distracting.
Trade Notifications for a Timer
The third way that you can get more comfortable with closing your inbox is to stop getting the notifications. And I know that sounds counterintuitive
because if your inbox is closed, you feel like you need the notifications to rely on, so you don’t miss anything important. But hear me out.
Notifications open loops in your brain that distract you from the work at hand, even if you don’t open them. Just knowing that something came in and you don’t know what it is, divides your focus. And it’s worse if you saw the sender or subject line, because then your brain starts trying to fill in the blanks, and it’s usually pessimistic.
But FOMO is real, I know. And if you don’t have notifications turned on, you’ll feel the need to open your inbox every 10 seconds to see if anything is there. It’s a double-edged sword.
And that’s where the timer comes in.
A timer means that your brain can rest and focus on the task at hand. When the timer goes off, you’ll open your email and deal with anything. Knowing that there is a time set aside for that will give your brain a break from thinking about it. It closes the loop.
In the beginning, you may need to set that timer for a small amount of time, maybe just 15-30 minutes. And then work your way up as you get more comfortable with not seeing those notifications and emails.
As you get used to shutting your inbox and your brain gets more comfortable with the idea that it can relax and focus, you’ll find that you’re getting more done in less time because your attention isn’t divided and fractured. And you’ll probably notice that your clients weren’t expecting immediate responses like you always believed.
You’ll be more productive without sacrificing your professionalism and maybe even have time to read those newsletters you filed away.
If you’re interested in going deeper on this topic and learning how to simplify your inbox, join my live training, the Simplified Inbox Blueprint, on July 22nd at 6 pm Central. Click here for more information.
By definition, anxiety is apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness, usually over an impending or anticipated ill.
Anxiety is essentially the fear of unmet expectations. We are afraid we won’t meet an expectation, and something ill will come of it.
Often, those expectations are of our own making. We expect an event to go poorly, or we’re expecting a specific outcome. If we expect something to go well, there’s no anxiety.
So when it comes to entrepreneurial anxiety, we need to focus on reframing expectations-both ours and others’.
The other day I posted something on social media that said, “the inbox is the cornerstone of entrepreneurial anxiety.” As expected, there were a lot of people in agreement with that statement. The most common response was, “Yes, so I avoid it!”
I found the two-fold nature of this anxiety to be fascinating.
You see, most entrepreneurs tie the anxiety directly to their inbox. It’s the tool/space itself that makes them feel anxious. It’s an onslaught of requests, demands, promotions, and information, and we’re often dealing with it in a cluttered and disorganized jumble. Just the thought of even looking at it triggers an expectation of overwhelm, which, in turn, creates anxiety.
The expectation that dealing with it will be overwhelming is just the first layer.
Then we have to deal with the fact that beneath that general expectation we have created for ourselves, lies a list of expectations from the senders of each message.
And the longer we avoid dealing with the inbox out of the original anxiety, the scarier the expectations hidden inside of those individual messages get.
Which makes the idea of going through the inbox even more overwhelming, which means we put it off more, which compounds the expectations of those waiting in our inbox, which…you see where I’m going with this?
Inbox Avoidance vs Obsession
Our inbox is the place where everyone else’s expectations land. When we swing to either side of the spectrum, we create a new layer of expectation for ourselves on top of those individual expectations.
On the one end, we have the avoiders–they avoid the inbox until there’s an apparent dumpster fire, and then scramble to put it out. And in doing so, they usually discover other urgent or essential things that fell through the cracks, compounding the overwhelm and anxiety they’re feeling.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the obsessed–their inbox runs their life. It’s open all of the time, and they cannot stand to see that little red bubble with a number. They are no more productive than avoiders because they are continually putting out the fires as they come up, leaving no time or focus for other important things. Their anxiety comes from the idea of not meeting other people’s expectations fast enough, as well as repeatedly failing their own expectations for projects they never make time to complete.
Both ends of the spectrum bring their distinctive flavor of anxiety when we talk about managing an inbox.
The unfortunate reality is that email is as unavoidable as death and taxes. We’re going to have to deal with it at some point. It’s a part of pretty much everyone’s lives, yet we’re never really taught how to manage it effectively.
And to make things worse, we’re now inundated with multiple inboxes. There are inboxes on nearly every social media platform, as well as school, work, and personal emails. And then there’s the inbox of project management apps and platforms like Slack. It’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed.
At any given time, we are bombarded with other people’s expectations. They show up in text messages, voice mails, DMs, and emails. With the increase in technology, we’ve opened ourselves up to being at the mercy of other people’s expectations 24/7.
It’s no wonder that anxiety and overwhelm are the status quo for any of us, but especially entrepreneurs.
The good news is that it’s up to us to begin opting out and reframing those expectations. We can revoke that access to ourselves at any time. We can set boundaries and question which expectations we allow ourselves to buy into. We can also control when and how people communicate their expectations to us and when and how we respond.
And the simplest places to start with that are our inbox and our mobile notifications. Start by unsubscribing to promotional newsletters (expectation to buy) and social media notifications (expectation to engage instantly). Then begin setting expectations on when and how you will reply. My favorite is an autoresponder in my Facebook messages directing people to email me instead. One inbox down, 183 more to go.
If you’re interested in going deeper on this topic and learning how to simplify your inbox, join my live training, the Simplified Inbox Blueprint, on July 22nd at 6 pm Central. Click here for more information.
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.