I noticed a behavior pattern of mine recently that you may be able to relate to. I’m good at managing and taking action on the urgent emails and matters I need to be doing now or later today, but I struggle with managing the flow of information I don’t need to be reading or doing now.
I’m referring to information I’d like to read at some point or action items I’d like to do at some point, but which are by no means urgent. My “save it for later” mentality was causing my email inbox to become unmanageable (10,000 emails and growing). I was able to clear out my email box and set myself up for future successful email management, by creating some new habits.
Here are 3 tips I’ve recently implemented which help manage my email overload and ultimately increase productivity:
1) Create a “not reading now” folder
This folder is designed for the e-newsletters, daily news digests, and other lengthy material you want to read . . . at a later date. I generally have one day a week where I can block out some time for reading and can quickly scan my ‘not reading now’ folder and actually read the articles that interest me and delete the rest. While some people might want to create a rule in their outlook program to have items automatically put in this folder, I like to self select what goes in there so I don’t miss anything that is important and urgent.
Having a flow of new information helps me with my own creativity as a weekly blogger, and as a consultant to professionals on how to grow their practice. I carve out creative time, just as I carve out time to read, but neither of those activities work in the midst of deadlines, client emergencies, or other important matters or distractions. Having a folder to move the information to allows me to focus on the urgent, without losing this other information.
2) Create a social media invitation/event invitation folder
Lately, I’ve been receiving daily invitations from people I’ve never met or even heard of, but who are connected to other people I do know, who send me LinkedIn invitations with the category of “friend” as our level of association. I also receive friend invitations on Facebook regularly from people I’ve never met or heard of. To me, “friend”, in the social media world, means I’ve actually met or had a conversation with someone. They aren’t my “friend” simply because they know someone I know. I generally like to respond to these invitations with a standard email on Facebook or LinkedIn inviting them to have a conversation with me to determine if we have any business synergy. 9 out of 10 people don’t even respond to that offer, which tells me that they are contact collectors and not relationship focused.
Since it takes time to send the email reply to their invitation, and time to track whether or not they responded to my suggestion to schedule a call, and then time to coordinate the call, I created an email folder of those LinkedIn and Facebook invitations to keep track of it all. That way I can respond when I have time to do so, and don’t have to clutter my inbox.
Another folder could be created for event invitations you receive, but aren’t sure you want to attend just now. If you know you aren’t interested in the event invitation or social media connection invitation, it is easy to delete it, but those you might want to respond to later will easily get lost and forgotten in the barrage of email unless you have a folder to keep track of it. You may want to schedule a calendar occurrence to check that folder periodically, or keep it as a favorites folder in outlook so you’ll see it and tend to it in a timely manner.
3) Create a “non-urgent meetings/phone calls to schedule” folder
If you are like me, you are introduced to people via email that other people think you should meet. We all want to expand our networks with quality contacts. Sometimes these email introductions arrive when you are swamped and can’t respond to them right away, or perhaps you have no idea why the person introducing you thought you should know this other person. Are they a potential client in need of your services? Are they a potential referral source? Are you a target for a product/service they want to sell? I generally like to know why I’m being introduced and encourage the person doing the introducing to provide some context so I can act accordingly. I may send them a private email asking for this.
Generally, I reply to these introduction emails the same day, within a few minutes of receiving them usually, thanking the introducer and proposing to the other person that we schedule a time to talk by phone, and learn more about one another. This is generally a 15 to 20 minute call to find out if there’s any business synergy and if it makes sense for us to meet. I have standard list of questions I may want to ask them, as well as potential follow up actions I could take based on their interest and fit for my services. My menu of talking points helps me to make this short call very productive, and based on their responses, I know whether or not it makes sense to meet with this person. However, before we get to the phone call or the meeting, we have to manage whether or not that person replies to the introductory email from our mutual friend. I keep track of these introductions in my ‘non-urgent meetings/phone calls to schedule’ folder, until we’ve reached the scheduled phone call or meeting phase.
Why is follow-up so important?
For me, it’s the differentiator between the serious business person who I might be able to build a relationship with, and the casual networker on a fishing expedition. I’m not a “high volume” networker. Although I’ve grown a sizeable network over time, I don’t want to add people for the sake of numbers, but I am always interested in more quality relationships.
If someone can’t even bother to reply to an email introducing two people with potential business synergy, that tells me they either don’t value the relationship they have with the person that introduced us, or they aren’t good at follow up. In either case, they probably aren’t going to be a good contact for me because relationships and follow up are critical in my book!
Points to ponder and share:
- What is your favorite tip for managing email overload?
- What will you do differently as a result of the tips suggested in this blog?