By Adam Steele, owner of Loganix.
Do you own your inbox or does it own you? That's the question I was forced to ask myself when I first started tracking the time I spend in my business inbox every day. I learned that it was close to five hours per day and often over that. I wasn't even reading most of the emails that were wasting my time -- just getting through them. I just spent my early mornings, late evenings and my spare time throughout the day running through subject line after subject line making sure nothing important got missed.
If you've found yourself in the same spot I was in, you need to put a system in place to do something about it. After borrowing tips from some great guides, I committed to these three habits that took me from spending five hours a day on emails to not more than 45 minutes -- while missing nothing.
Learn to Label Everything
This is a just a habit -- annoying at first, but it will become the foundation for the hundreds of hours that you save in just the first year of following these rules. Every subject line that you need to scan is a little bit of your time and mental energy for the day spent, multiplied by however many emails you read per day. Take back control by turning labeling into a habit for every incoming email.
You won't know all the categories you'll need to create until you start building them from the mass in your inbox. Create as many as you need, but make sure that every email can be covered by at least one label. Once every email is covered by a label, start using filters to wipe all but the most high-priority emails from your inbox. For example, label and filter away unsolicited offers, updates from your social media profiles, long-running conversations and any other low-priority emails so that they won't even appear until you're off the clock.
Unsubscribe Immediately From Anything That Doesn't Create Value
If you're like me, your business email goes back years and carries a lot of baggage, like offers from services you haven't subscribed to since 2005. Once you've organized all these low-priority emails into one label, start aggressively unsubscribing from them. In fact, unsubscribe or divert anything that doesn't communicate something you need for your business to another email account that you don't use for work. Be ruthless. If you make a mistake, you can always subscribe again later on.
Perfect Your Messaging for Questions, and Commit Them to an FAQ
Once you've filtered away all the unimportant emails, you'll be able to more easily assess how to address what's left. At this point, you may have already saved many hours, but there's one important step you can take to save even more: create an FAQ. I discovered that most of the priority emails I still received were questions from clients (wouldn't want to ignore those!). I also noticed, however, that many of the questions I was answering were the same from month to month. That meant a single week of work on an FAQ was hundreds of saved hours.
Create a document that covers all of the questions that you get from clients. Start with the most common questions you know, and then add any answers that you give to clients from that point on. Eventually, you'll reach a point where you only need to copy and paste to manage most of the emails that show up in your inbox.
The chance to reclaim hundreds of hours is a great incentive on its own. But what really makes these habits worthwhile is how quickly they become natural. It only takes a few days of practicing these habits to see the value in them. Get serious about labeling, un-subbing and creating answers, and you'll find it effortless to become a more efficient person.
Adam Steele is the owner of link-building agency Loganix. Check out his YouTube channel The Steele Entrepreneur Show.