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Handling the Constant Flow of Emails

It’s another Expert Briefs, where I ask really smart business owners to answer your burning questions.

If you've missed past Expert Briefs, you can click on the undies to see them all –>

The question for next Expert Briefs is one that I got from a reader…

“HELP! I'm drowning in emails. Even with a support person in place, too many people have my email address and I can't keep up.

What's your BEST tip for handling email that comes directly to you?”

I hope this week's answers help everyone dealing with an email dilemma.


Lynette Chandler of TechBasedMarketing.com says:

When we consolidated all our sites' contact point into one, I redirected all addresses to go into the new help desk and created a brand new secret address for myself that is used exclusively between staff, close friends and my handful of clients. This way, I started afresh while still ensuring the old mails are read and taken care of and takes care of the problem where too many people have your address. It is a complete, 100% break that is very liberating.

Unless you have worked with them for a long time, don't expect your support person to know what to do with all those emails off the bat though. I use the method above to effectively retire email addresses but each time I do it I still need to give her some guidelines on handling certain emails for example, “Don't forward me any personal emails except from Nicole Dean ;-)”

If there are personal messages that get forwarded to me and I don't want them to have my address but at the same time want to communicate openly, I'll reply to my support person and tell her to replay my message in double quotes. As time goes by, she knows anything that I put in quotes is to be repeated verbatim. It may seem silly and a waste of resources to communicate through a third party but for me it is worth it because it lets me protect my real email address.


Ronnie Nijmeh of PLR.me (< -click for a special free offer from Ronnie) says:

This is a GREAT question – and it comes at a very fitting time for me.

I just spent the last 5 days wading through a couple thousand emails, questions, orders, and forum private messages… and fortunately I'm still sane!

Firstly, I'd really recommend getting to know Gmail really well. 🙂 There are a lot of hidden features and functions in the settings and the Gmail Labs that have saved me a ton of time.

My favorites:

1. Keyboard Shortcuts
2. Canned Responses
3. Filters
4. Signatures

I actually outlined how to use these features (and other awesome time saving techniques) in a product I released with Rachel Rofe called Time Management Tricks

Next up, I'd really recommend having your VA answer 99% of emails, even if it's specifically for you.

What I do is forward the message to my assistant and give her some specific key points that I want her to mention. It's short and simple and only takes me about 15 seconds. Then my VA spruces it up, formats it correctly, and sends it to my clients with a message that says something like: “Ronnie reviewed your questions and he said: ….”

That way they're getting a response from me, but via my VA. Saves time and ensures that my clients are well-taken care of.

I still answer a lot of emails myself, and when I do, I loosely follow this formula:

1. Thank the client for sending the email.
2. Acknowledge that they took the time out to send the email and express my appreciation.
3. If there are a few questions, I use a numbered list to answer questions quickly (that way it doesn't have to be formatted in full sentences)
4. Thank the client again and allow Gmail to fill in my signature for me.

It's a simple formula that saves time and gets clients quicker replies to their emails!


NicoleNicole Dean of .. here! .. says:

I got two really good tips from Lynette and Ronnie's answers above.

Lynette's tip about “anything I have in quotes can be sent verbatim” is brilliant and obvious – but I guess not obvious enough since I'm not doing it. I have been worried that a quick note to my customer support gal would get forwarded without being touched up to look professional. Great tip, Lynette! Thanks.

Ronnie's one line really nailed it for me. “Next up, I'd really recommend having your VA answer 99% of emails, even if it's specifically for you.” I usually just hit “reply” even if I know I shouldn't to save time. Unfortunately, it ends up costing me tons of time down the road since I've then exposed my email addy to another person. Thanks for the verbal smack-down, Ronnie.

I use gmail, too. I love the canned responses and the filters, too. It's by far, the best email management program for my needs.

My #1 tip is to set up filters for your inbox. For instance, I have everything that comes into gmail with the word “unsubscribe” in it set to skip my inbox and go directly to a “promos” folder that I set up. That way I can check that folder once a week, knowing that it's pretty much all stuff that can wait, like newsletters that I've subscribed to. The only problem is that I've had to train my customer support person to delete the unsubscribe link from any emails that she's going to forward to me so that I actually get them. lol.

Filters also give me the ability to send emails that come from certain people directly to my trash. So, if I get subscribed to a junk list that doesn't have an “unsub” button, I can just have anything that comes from that site skip my inbox and go directly to trash. Pretty slick, eh? 🙂

 Now it's your turn!

What's your best tip for handling the email that comes to your inbox? Do tell! 🙂

Warmly,
Nicole Dean


Check out this Recommended Resource:

Rachel Rofe & Ronnie created a cool course called Time Management Tricks.

Check it out if you want more info on organizing your day to get more done.


I adore comments! Please share your thoughts.

  • Glennette
    Reply

    Hey Nicole! I admit it. I’m a productivity nut! I keep my inbox fairly empty and I’d love to share how I do it with you and your readers.

    Free Report (No optin): Mastering Your Inbox: How much money is in there by the way?
    Glennette Goodbread, Owner
    Premium Web Design and Hosting

    • Chelle
      Reply

      Thanks for the free report, Glennette! Super tips. Really helpful. I am wading in mail.

      Just one thing… I can’t find ‘canned response’ on my gmail… looked everywhere. Really liked the idea of that feature.

      • Lynette
        Reply

        Chelle, canned responses are a Lab feature you have to enable. It’s not automatically turned on. If you click the gear icon at the top right, click on Labs then look for Canned Response and enable it. You should then see the Canned Response drop down when you write/reply an email.

  • Tim
    Reply

    Great thoughts, although I do have a question concerning Gmail – hopefully you’ll have some insight, since it appears that all of you are users, and for business purposes.
    I would like to use gmail, and I know I can connect a business email (xyz@mydomain.com) to it. However, can you send mail out of gmail and have it appear to be from your business email, and not your @gmail.com address?
    Thank you for any info, I’d really love to use Gmail to help me get better organized!!
    -Tim

    • Lynette
      Reply

      You can do as Ronnie suggests or you can have GoogleApps set up. This is gives you “your very own Gmail” so to speak. If you have assistants, you can set up addresses and they will all use ‘Gmail’ too but all under your own domain.

      The POP and IMAP methods are much easier to set up Google Apps does require someone with just a smidgen more tech knowledge or at least stomach for it :). I like it that way because sometimes I reply and forget to check the ‘from’ address and realized I sent email from the Gmail address. You can have it automatically reply using the same address it is sent of course.

  • Ronnie Nijmeh
    Reply

    @Tim… Great question!

    Yes, indeed the mail will come from your own domain. When you setup your non-Gmail email accounts within Gmail as a POP3 account, you can also specify whether you want to be able to send mail from that account too.

    Details are outlined here:
    http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&ctx=mail&answer=22370

  • The Happypreneur
    Reply

    Really great advice from everyone! Thanks Glennette for the report. I periodically go through my email and unsubscribe to those that I haven’t found to be of interest for whatever reason. I also skim through my inbox and delete those that I know are promotional that I will have no interest in before I start opening and reading. You know, the ones that have made no personal connection with you from reading their emails. Then my inbox is easier to maneuver. I said easier, not easy, LOL!!

    Blessings,
    Celene Harrelson

  • Glennette
    Reply

    You’re welcome! My DART method works great for me.

    Chelle, it’s a bit tricky. You have to click on COMPOSE MAIL first. You’ll see Canned Responses up above the body of the message and you can Insert, Save and Delete from there.

    To create a new one, open a blank email. Type in the response you want. Click Canned Responses then click on New Canned Response under Save and give it a name.

    To use it, you’d hit reply then click on Canned Responses and choose it from the list under INSERT.

    Glennette Goodbread, Owner
    Premium Web Design and Hosting

  • James Artre
    Reply

    Nicole,

    Excellent question!

    This is what worked for me several years ago when I first got overwhelmed by emails…

    First, I made a decision who it was that I was going to allow to mentor me; guide me, lead me to where it is I wanted to go.

    Part of this decision making process was to look for those with the “fruit on the tree” — ‘real’ people, people with heart, people who were actually doing what it was they were telling me to do to get to where I wanted to go (And I invested in their services, I paid them for their expertise and experience).

    Another part of the process was determining the character of the people I chose to mentor me. If they didn’t have any, then they didn’t make the cut…

    After taking everything into consideration, I pulled the trigger… literally!

    I unsubscribed from everyone and everything that was not directly related to my chosen endeavor. I believe at that time only three people that made the cut:

    Jimmy Brown
    Ray Edwards
    Stephen Pierce

    Obviously you are on this list now, or I wouldn’t be here 😉

    Over time, as I grew, and my needs changed, then I networked with the beginning three to find others they knew and trusted in that particular area, or need.

    I now have my email files setup for the half-dozen or so people I subscribe to, with sub-folders for each category or topic; much like blog categories w/hierarchies.

    This is what works for me.

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

    James

    • Nicole
      Reply

      Awwww… Thank you, James! I’m honored to even be mentioned alongside such great people. 🙂

      I hope to prove that I’m worthy.

      Hugs,
      N

  • The Mad Webmaster
    Reply

    Geez Nicole,

    This is pretty simple stuff.

    Most of my email comes through my support center where you have to jump through a bunch of hoops to get a hold of me. I make you tell me your weight, color underwear and hat size just to fill out my contact form.

    But for general mail, I simply mark the box that “checks all” and then before I let go and click the delete button I check to see which ones to keep (most people do the opposite).

    Finally, I have a special email box that I use for all my subs to newsletters, special contacts (ie: jv people), people like Nicole (if she would ever read my email to her) 🙂

    Seriously, I believe most of us who have a overwhelm problem are type A(s) who have to be in complete control, can’t delegate or let go. I’m working on that. Great post.

    Mad Guy

    • Nicole
      Reply

      Hey Mad Guy.

      Love the response!

      You’re not getting my weight though, uhhh… undies are black today, and I don’t know my hat size.

      I don’t know that my problem, or this reader’s problem, is being type “A”, though. For me, I just have a really hard time letting people down. You know what I mean?

      I’m thrilled when people contact support directly. Things are handled brilliantly. It’s when they contact me, personally, that I have a hard time…. maybe I need therapy?

      I want to be more like you. Wait. NOT in letting people down, but valuing my own time enough to let things (like unanswered emails from people I like) go.

      Thank you for taking the time to respond!
      N

  • Lynette
    Reply

    Nicole, thanks for the opportunity and most welcome. I can’t remember but I *think* I learned that from Tim Ferris. It is either him or David Allen. Probably Ferris because right after that I went through a massive change.

    @Ronnie, it’s strange how similar our systems are. When I hired on a customer service agent, I shared something similar to your formula although I didn’t call it that.

  • Shelley Hitz, Self Publishing Coach
    Reply

    Great ideas from everyone! I know I can still improve my e-mail efficiency. One of the issues I still have is feeling the need to constantly check e-mail – which I know is not good.

    I have several websites that I manage and use Gmail via GoogleApps. This used to mean that I was logging in and out of 5 Gmail accounts to check email. So, I ended up connecting them all to one account. There’s an article about how to do that here: http://simpleorganizedlife.com/how-to-read-and-send-all-your-emails-from-inside-your-gmail-account

    Then, in that one Gmail inbox, I am using the Firefox addon called, “Integrated Gmail.” https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/integrated-gmail/ Now I can access all my e-mails, my Google calendar, my Google RSS Reader (to keep up on my niche and forums) and my Google Voice account all at once!!

    Read an article about using integrated gmail here: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/manage-google-tasks-integrated-gmail-firefox/

    I can’t tell you how much clutter this has gotten rid of for me. And it is such a great productivity tool…yeah!

  • Heidi
    Reply

    This has been a problem for me too. I usually have 1000 emails that I need to deal with. I know people who say they always keep their inbox clear, but I just don’t think you can do that if you are a business owner (and a mom).

    I heard recently that people will only remember if you’re productive and not whether you have a clean inbox. That has been a bit freeing.

    I was also wondering if anyone on gmail knows if you can read one email after another without having to click on it. I would just like to read an email, delete it or archive it and then have the next email come up on the screen. Instead I have to click on the next email to be able to read it. I know it sounds lame, but I just thought someone might know if gmail has this feature.

    Thanks!

    Heidi

    • Glennette
      Reply

      New labs feature – Auto advance – it’s awesome!

      This was my only complaint about Gmail.

      Now, using the labs feature, Auto Advance, you are taken to the next email when you archive, delete or mute a message!

      You can even change the direction if you prefer to read oldest first.

      • Donna
        Reply

        @Heidi, Thanks for asking that question. You are so right. It would be great to be able to do that.

        @Glennette, Thanks for answering it. I really need to check out that “labs”.

        Also, thanks to everyone here who have given such great tips.

        Donna 🙂

  • Regina
    Reply

    ALL great suggestions. Right now I’m more like Celene. I’ve unsubbed from a lot of stuff I don’t read anyway. I’m like a ninja when it comes to email, I can tell from the subject line, what I want to open and those I don’t. My delete key is VERY handy, LOL!

    No one has really ‘tapped’ into my personality as far as a VA goes, so I answer most of my emails. I’ll cherish the day when I have so many I’ll have to hire a team to answer them for me.

    Thanks for all the great suggestions!

    Regina

  • Sandy Halliday
    Reply

    My email problem was of my own doing by signing up for free reports,buying products, signing up to an affiliate program or traffic system or contributing to giveaways.

    I was fed up with all the emails flooding into my 2 email addresses and decided to go over to gmail and create different email addresses for different things. ( I know I can filter but I still like to keep them separate). Any free report I sign up for now goes into one email address and I usually unsubscribe straight away. I keep another for affiliate stuff and another for general emails. That works well for me because I have to go online to check them and I don’t do it as often as I used to when they downloaded onto my PC.

    I do have a problem with unsubscribing from a bunch of other stuff because I like to see what other people are sending out and what’s going on. I am afraid to unsubscribe from too many in case I miss something. What does that tell you?

    • Leisa Watkins
      Reply

      One thing you could do is have all of the emails pulled into one central GMail account. Then have them automatically tagged appropriately (affiliate, bulk mail) and set most of it up to skip your inbox. To view those items you just click on the label (folder). You only have to log into one email account each day and you can handle them all at once.

  • Leisa Watkins
    Reply

    I also to use GMail to handle my email. I have it pull my email in from my various email addresses and I have set up lots of filters to sort the email as it comes in.

    Much of it goes to my Bulk Mail folder, but there are certain people’s email that I always want to read their email, so I set-up another filter and labled it Bulk – Priority. I have less than 10 different peoples regular email going into that folder and I try to view it every day.

    As I am working through my email I sort them into folder (tagged) based on next actions. If I need to respond in some way to an email, or take some other type of action I tag it .action and archive it so that it is no longer viewed in my inbox. Some are tagged .action @computer if I need to do it at the computer and if I need to make a phone call I tag it .action @phone. I also have someday/maybe and .waiting on as well.

    I like to review local GroupOn, Living Social , etc. offers so I have tagged those Bulk Deals and also have it archive so it avoids my inbox. When I want to view the local deals I open the folder, see if I am interested in anything, and then delete the emails.

    I just counted and I actually have filters set-up to sort incoming mail into over 50 folders. I tag emails by client and so I can open up that folder and view the emails from that client when it comes time to work with them.

    Because I homeschool I subscribe to field trip lists etc. and those are automatically tagged homeschooling so that I can review that folder during school hours and not work hours.

    Setting up lots of filters keeps me from getting distracted from doing what it is I should be working on most. Some of the filters are set to automatically forward to members of the team as well.

    Bottom line, I love Gmail and the ability it gives me to be more effecient.

  • Emily
    Reply

    I like sitting down 3 scheduled times a day and clearing everything out/making responses.

  • Dvorah
    Reply

    Oh WOW is this timely, THANK YOU Nicole!!!! I was JUST working on my goal and project writing and one of the items I listed was “GET control of my day by figuring out how to get FREE from the “email dragon”.

    The tip Ronnie shared about creating a filter for all items with the word “unsubscribe” is priceless!

    Thank you forever! I’m off to get more done in less time!
    D’vorah

  • Jo Dodds
    Reply

    Hi Nicola and all

    This was timely for me too. I just yesterday started trying to get gmail organised as I have my first meeting with my new VA today! I’ve been an Outlook person for ever so it’s taking a bit of effort to retrain my eye to the new stuff but reading this has really helped me to keep going – especially the references, so thanks everyone.

    For those people struggling with those pesky newsletter subscriptions – a tip – I’ve got a separate email address for those so they don’t come into my main account anyway. Interestingly this year has been so hectic that I haven’t been into that account more than once or twice, and I’m not missing it (although I can’t quite bring myself to delete them without reading them first – ok, maybe I need more coaching on that it ;-))

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