Email--we can't live with it, we can't live without it. No, but seriously, with all due respect to the many communication tools out there, email still serves as the primary vehicle for most business communication, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
The thing with email is that some of us still remember when the concept of digitally sending a letter across the world in seconds was science fiction. It was invented to increase our efficiency and productivity, and if you don't get on top of your inbox, you quickly find yourself spending hours trying to tackle it, which means that email actually achieves the opposite result of its original purpose.
Here are three easy tips to make sure your email inbox avoids chaos and helps boost your productivity:
1. Let your inbox be your task-management solution.
Like most things in our lives, when it comes to managing your tasks, "there's an app for that." In fact, there are many apps for that. I avoid them all and use my inbox for that. Here is how it works.
When I have a task to do--say, when a CEO I am working with asks me to do something--I either ask them to email it to me or I email it to myself and leave it there in my inbox until the task is completed. My inbox is my to-do list, and that means that I have a built-in incentive to accomplish my goals--namely, I want them out of my inbox so my OCD can calm back down when I see the "Your inbox is empty" message restored to its correct location.
2. Reply fast and reply strong.
"Hillel, how do you reply so fast to every single email?" I get that question 80 times a day and the answer is "I just do." I am on my phone 90 percent of the day and when a new email comes in, I of course set it to notify me instantly. I see the email and try to get to the "Ask," the question, or whatever the sender wants to know, and I try to reply quickly and firmly in order to prevent follow up if possible.
For example, if the email is from a startup reaching out for a meeting, there are basically three possible answers. "No, this is not relevant for me since it is not my area of expertise and I don't want to waste your time because I cannot be of much value," "Sure, let's meet, here are some possible dates, please choose one and send a calendar invite," or "I think it is better to start with a call and see if a meeting is relevant."
If a startup emails me, they will get one of those responses almost immediately. Clear and concise, which allows me the privilege of replying quickly. Which leads us to the next point.
3. Set up keyboard shortcuts.
If I had to estimate, I would say that 19 out of every 20 emails I send are actually keyboard shortcuts I set up. Think about your day and you will quickly realize that there are many things, many words, many phrases you say multiple times throughout the day. Set up shortcuts for those phrases.
Whether it is someone asking me for my phone number, my home address, a meeting, some information about my work, or something else, I would say 90 percent of the emails I get are not unique and are questions or comments to which I have responded before. Take your own common responses and set up a shortcut in your settings so you can reply fast.
Along the lines of our example above, sometimes a startup asks to meet but doesn't provide context, as in why they want to meet. Is it in order to pitch me for an article? Then probably not relevant. Is it for marketing advice? OK, tell me more. Is it to be on my vlog? Not looking for more startups to feature. Instead of replying asking for context and explaining all that, I set up a shortcut. I write the word "Context??" with two question marks on my iPhone and it automatically inserts a five-sentence paragraph asking for specific context and explaining that without context, expectations of the meeting won't be aligned, which could get awkward.
Bottom line, figure out ways to reply to people quickly and thoroughly. If you are good at this, you will be able to respond to every single email and leave people scratching their heads in amazement at how you handle all the volume. More importantly, though, you will waste less time on your inbox and spend more time getting the work done that you previously spent all your time emailing about.