In this mobile phone/smart device age, we’re more connected to our friends, family and work colleagues (and customers!) than ever before. Whilst this has some positives – most notably convenience and reduced isolation (which has been of particular importance over the past 14 months), it can mean that it’s incredibly difficult to ‘switch off’ from work, particularly when customers can email you at any time of the day or night.
Despite the 24hr a day, 365 day a year connectivity that we now have, I’ve learned that if customers do email you at 11pm at night, because it is convenient to them, that they don’t necessarily expect a response, especially if you have established boundaries at the outset of your working relationship (i.e. ‘I don’t respond to emails after 5PM and before 8AM, and also at weekends and on bank holidays’). Of course, there are occasions when something urgent occurs, but again, these ‘emergency’ situations should be clarified when you first start working together so that both you and your customers share a common understanding of what an emergency actually is and how swiftly action is required (plus have discussed the topic of ‘out of hours’ pay).
Even if you do respond to emails solely in traditional working hours, it can be challenging keeping on top of your inbox whilst also completing all-important client work, so here are my top tips for reducing inbox related stress:
1.) Set yourself a couple of email checking periods per day. Turn off the email notifications on your computer and mobile phone, and try to schedule in one or two periods per day that are dedicated to checking your email. This means that you don’t feel tempted to respond to an email as soon as it drops into your in-tray, and are able to instead focus more fully on the task at hand. You could always ask customers to phone rather than email if there is an urgent issue (again, it’s important to pre-define ‘urgent’) or advise them specifically of the daily period you have dedicated to checking emails, to manage their expectations.
2.) Why not consider an auto-responder that advises you aim to respond within X working days? Something as simple as this can sometimes help to further manage customer expectations. Once again, there are always emails that you may want to respond to more urgently, but giving people a maximum time that it will take for you to get back to them can be useful.
3.) Unsubscribe from irrelevant emails – or at least put them in a separate folder so they don’t fill up your inbox! Setting aside 15 or 30 minutes a couple of times a day for email related admin can be helpful, but if you spend 90% of the time deleting irrelevant emails (or clicking though to those tempting ‘special offers’ sent out by ecommerce businesses!), that block of time you allocate is regularly going to creep into your client work time.
4.) Prioritise the relevant emails with flags/folders, etc. (something that identifies the urgent from the less urgent!) – once you’ve got rid of the irrelevant ‘filler’ content in your inbox, you need to prioritise the remaining emails. Without doing this, you may simply be responding to emails in the order they arrive, without noticing that some are more urgent than others, and some may not need action for another few days/weeks. This can help you manage your time more effectively and ensure you don’t miss important messages that require a timely response.
5.) Create templates – do you regularly send out emails that are very similar (i.e client onboarding emails, general ‘check in’ emails, etc.)? If so, why not create templates that you can simply re-use at the click of a button?
6.) Don’t respond out of working hours! Even if you are working evenings or weekends to catch up with work (or to get ahead – we’ve all been there!), it’s helpful if customers don’t realise you are available at non-traditional times (simply to preserve your sanity!). Again, it’s an expectation management type of thing. If you are working late, why not try a tool like Boomerang to schedule emails completed at 3AM to be automatically sent during your traditional working hours… see? No one has to know you are a secret midnight emailer…
These are a few simple recommendations, but could really help you to feel more in control of your email inbox – something that is incredibly challenging to do when you’ve got 36,000 unread emails in your inbox!