email

Five Tips For Organizing Email

Sometimes, I think the universe assigns me these blog topics on purpose.

I run two businesses, have a few personal projects, and some social correspondence which means I check about ten different email addresses from one interface.

This can get a little overwhelming.

A few weeks ago, one of my friends helped me move everything into a Google Apps account which meant that suddenly, the kind of band-aid system I had in place became apparent because EVERYTHING was getting dumped into my inbox at once.

Tip 1: Make a generic Gmail for some purposes (you can have it forward to a spot in your real email that’s not your inbox).

One thing I’ve learned is lots of people have been spoofing my domain, sending email and pretending to be affiliated with Breaking Even.

One way to stop that (and to give your email a lot more street cred in the process) is to tell your domain which services you use to send email (ex: Mailchimp) and exclude all others. (This is kind of a technical thing but if you live and die by email like we do, worth getting it set up by a pro. Let us know if you need help; we know people who do this.)

But if like me you made accounts that send auto-updates (ex: automated backups in Wordpress) with your usual email, then you are out of luck. I had to move these to a generic Gmail.

Switching things like this and online shopping accounts, etc. to a generic Gmail can filter the non-work (i.e. non-productive) stuff to another area before it even hits your work email.

Tip 2: Use Unroll.me or similar service to batch your marketing emails.

Unroll.me is a free service that connects to your email and pulls in any marketing emails. From the interface, you can select which ones go to your inbox, which ones get ‘bundled’ for a once a day delivery/processing, and which ones you want to unsubscribe from.

With over 1800 email subscriptions (many of which I swear I didn’t even sign up for), this has been a huge timesaver for me. And if you run a local business or non-profit, you can tell people about this and make sure your emails get in your customers’ inboxes (if they want them to anyway).

Tip 3: Use filters.

The easiest way to organize something is to organize how (and if) it comes into your life. With filters, I can have things from certain clients go into certain areas of my email, meaning I can batch tasks. Much more efficient than dealing with a mass pile of email looking for one particular thing.

Filters may seem like a technical thing to set up but most of the work is just deciding how you want to get information. Here’s how to create filters in Gmail and other popular services.

Tip 4: Templates are your friend.

If you’re like us, there are certain kinds of emails you get all the time:

  • I want to be a member but I’m not sure. (for Anchorspace)
  • What are your rates?
  • I don’t know anything about X service. What do you do?

I have a Google Doc called ‘Email Templates So I Don’t Have To Rewrite Them All the Effin Time’. I never remember exactly what it’s called but I can always find it via the word ‘effin’ in search. (Whatever works for you.) Taking the time to thoughtfully write these once and use them over and over will save valuable brain time. Part of my template says ‘INSERT PLEASANTRY HERE’ which allows me to add a personal touch before clicking send.

Tip 5: Find your most soul sucking email task and see if you can automate it.

Is it sticking reservations into a Google Calendar? Scheduling meetings? Sending out weekly Google Analytics reports to the team? All these things can be made automatic.

For me, my email used to be a place of some excitement… and as it turned to more dread, I realized why. It was because I was spending an average of 7 emails to schedule a one hour meeting.

Then I got Evie and she schedules things for me, and it’s lovely. Point is, since I got rid of the thing I dreaded most in my email, it has become a lot funner of a place once again.

The thing you hate the most about your email may be something you can have automatically happen. Give it a shot.

Email is here to say; it’s part of all our lives and by helping get it under control, we can feel more organized about a lot of our digital lives.

More Resources:

5 Tips To Achieve Inbox Zero

Send emails later (or reminders) in Gmail with Boomerang

27 Prewritten Templates For Your Toughest Work Emails

Email Game (because we all need a little incentive)

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Sharing is Caring

Leaving a review is one way to show your favorite businesses some online love. Another way is hitting that “Share” button (on Facebook, which translates to retweeting or reposting on other platforms, or just passing along information). As a business, there are ways to make it easy for people to share your stuff, which ultimately spreads your marketing to a greater audience than it otherwise would have.

There are plenty of ways to share on behalf of a business or organization you care about online. Some of the more common methods include:

  • Share as a status update, on a friend’s timeline, or in a private message.
  • Invite friends to an event on social media or share link to event registration.
  • Retweet (Twitter) or Repost (Instagram).
  • Forward a newsletter to a friend and/or tell them how to subscribe if it’s something they’re interested in.

Sharing as an individual is fairly straightforward. But as a business, what can you be doing to make your content more shareable? Besides being generally useful and interesting, here are some things to keep in mind:

On Social Media.

Whether you’re promoting a sale, sharing an event, or just doing general updates, there are a few things to keep in mind when considering “share-ability” of your post. Most shared content on Facebook includes a photo or video. If you have one or the other, consider quality (is it blurry or off-center? Is there unnecessary footage?) as you’re posting- fans want to help you promote your business but might not want to share a ‘meh’ visual. This goes for Instagram, too, since it’s an all visual platform.

If you’re making a flyer for an event, check out our post on How Not to Design a Flyer for tips on this particular type of visual.

Keep in mind that well over half of Facebook users are on their mobile devices, so double check your links (especially those that you share from your own website, if you have one) can be read on mobile. Test it on your own device or ask a friend to help!

On Your Website.

A lot of websites have plugins or extensions for sharing through email, social media, or even text messaging on mobile. Hubspot has an easy to follow guide for adding social buttons for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram. This is an easy way to let people share your material on a channel of their choice, not necessarily one that you’re active on. If you aren’t automatically publishing blog posts on your social media accounts, social sharing buttons on your website makes it easy for others to share them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

We’ve talked about this before, but if your website is where all the “big” things happen (sales, registration, donations, etc), having a responsive/mobile-friendly site is something you really want to consider. If someone is getting to your website through Facebook on their phone on the train, they might not remember “Oh when I get home I have to sit down at my computer to follow through with this.”

In Your Newsletter. 

In addition to social sharing buttons at the bottom of your newsletter (example pictured below), you can also add options for “Forward to a Friend.” True, a person can easily hit “Forward” on their own, but the idea is to make sharing easier for people.

In addition to making it easier to share, you can also give followers an incentive to share. Some businesses offer a “Share this post for a chance to win” contest on social media, which is a fairly simple contest to set up. Encourage people to share your content, be interesting, and have fun with it!

 

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Online Systems: Outgoing Messages

You may ask yourself why we separated the incoming messages systems with the outgoing message systems. (Missed the last blog post about systems for dealing with incoming messages? Click here.)

For me, incoming messages are mainly reactive to while outgoing messages are more proactive.

We all have things we need to communicate about and figure out our system for sending these messages into the world.

From You: What Needs To Be Said?

The first kinds of outgoing messages that need to be sent are your outgoing (likely marketing) messages. Now this could be businesswise (sale!) or personalwise (birthday party!).

Answering these three questions quarterly about upcoming communications can frame this process:

  1. What do I need to say?
  2. Who do I need to say it to?
  3. What medium(s) will work best?

Make a list of all the messages you need to communicate over the next three months answering these three questions. 

Examples:

I’m having a Sappy Holidays low key gathering (where we watch ‘Love Actually’ and ‘The Holiday’ with a cookie baking intermission).
I need to invite my local (driving distance) friends.
Facebook event

I have an email list I want people to subscribe to for my business.
I need to tell my customers, friends, and potential customers. Maybe even some colleagues.
I need to remind people with twice a month posts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, and Instagram. I need to tell people when they come to in-person events. I should probably put it in my email signature. I should publish the email newsletter regularly as part of this. All these things will be scheduled ahead of time.

I know this sounds REALLY STUPID. But it’ll force you to look and think ahead, which is something most of us need to be prompted to do occasionally. I just made this list for Anchorspace messages and realized ‘dog friendly’ and ‘fast WiFi’ are not something we’ve been communicating at all. In other words, this list you make, whether for your business life or personal life or both, may surprise you. Also doing it quarterly will feel less nuts than doing it weekly or monthly.

Responding To Others: Now or Later?

Every message you get begs the critical question “Do I deal with this now or later?” My tips:

  • Strive for zero inbox, in all areas of life (texts, Facebook, etc.). If you get a message you can act on/respond to in five minutes, do it in the moment. If you can’t, put it somewhere: on a calendar, in a project management system, wherever you are capturing the needed information. There is a reason this concept has been cool since 2007, more here: http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/inbox-zero
  • Message the person. Responding to someone and acting on the item can be two different events. Acknowledge you received the info and, if you want, set a deadline about when they can expect to hear from you about it. People appreciate this step, even if it does take an extra 30 seconds. I am trying to be better about this myself.
  • If you don’t have a way to capture needed information (ex: Where do I put my grocery list?), that means you need a system. Your message box, whatever kind of message it is, is not a system!
  • Check ‘drafts’ folder and make sure that message you thought you wrote actually went out. I try to do this once a week and I always find something in there I thought I had sent out.

So in making sure your important communications go out and responding to other peoples’ communications go out, you are now in control of your outgoing messages! Congratulations! 

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Online Systems: Incoming Messages

If I was going to pick an area I felt least equipped to write about, it would be dealing with messages. I go through stages where I am super on top of things. Sometimes, I’ll completely miss a message only to get a polite ‘Um, did you get my text?’ three weeks later.

systems-graphic-incoming-messagesSo in some ways, I am the most terrible person to write this blog post but  in other ways, I am kind of the perfect person to do it. Here’s the steps I am following to rein in my own message demons:

Step 1: Make A List Of Everywhere I Get Messages

So I get messages the following places:

  • Email
  • Text Message
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Snapchat
  • WhatsApp
  • Phone
  • Google Chat
  • Skype
  • Snail Mail
  • Asana

Now clearly some of these need to be checked/responded to more often than others.

Step 2: Set Up Filters

If I get one more “You can be approved for $500,000 cash to use in your business’ call one more time, I may scream. So getting an app that filters these calls from even making it to my voicemail is a wise thing for me to spend time setting up (I may even pony up $0.99 for the best app to do it with).

Finding ways to filter messages will decrease the overall volume of what you are dealing with so it’s a good first step. You can also avoid duplication. For example, do you need Facebook to email you when you get a message? If not, turn that feature off and save yourself an email to read. If you follow a company on Instagram, do you also need to follow them on Facebook if they are posting the exact same messages? Ideally you want to deal with every message once, or as few times as possible.

Step 3: Set Up Times And Deal With Outstanding Messages

So if you are anything like me, dealing with your initial backlog will be painful, not just because you realize you missed some stuff but because it may remind you of past/unpleasant relationships or interactions. Remember, facing it now will save you having to review it later.

I have made a half hour each week in my calendar to deal with the following outstanding:

  • Email messages
  • Text and phone messages
  • Gchat/Skype
  • Snail Mail

(I check my social message for a half hour daily.)

Now part of this step is I need to find a way to ‘archive’ stuff I want to save but not look at daily (the voicemail ‘happy birthday’ message from my memere). Again, an initial time sink of doing this, I will save myself a few seconds every time I don’t have to relook at the same communications. Clearly, overall a worthwhile investment. I doubt once a few months go by and I chip away at past messages, I’ll even need half an hour.

I’ll talk about outgoing messages in our next blog post (to me these are clearly related issues but can be treated separately) but looking at my plan, my seemingly endless messages now seem manageable in a couple hours a week.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Do I Need To Know When Someone Opens My Email?

I’ve recently installed an app called Sidekick that tells me when someone has opened an email I sent. (Note: this doesn’t really work with group emails accurately, which you would guess but also would think to be especially handy.) Now I am not into selling Hubspot’s website building software (see blog post about open source about that) but I don’t think they are a terrible company so I am not opposed to trying their other offerings like this one.

It’s been about three days since I’ve installed it. I have the notifications turned on in my browser, which means a little IM-like window pops up and tells me when someone has opened my email. This is both assuring and creepy.

This appears in the sidebar of every email I open. I can see when it was opened as well as how many times.

This appears in the sidebar of every email I open. I can see when it was opened as well as how many times.

Like ‘waiting for the boy to call’ all over again.

Now picture knowing that someone has opened your email. And now wait for them to write back.

There is a reason email didn’t come built with this, I am convinced, because honestly the wait can be agonizing.

The feeling of excitement-dread is a lot like when I used to wait for my seventh grade boyfriend Frank to call me. (I have always voted Frank my ‘Most Likely To Succeed’ exboyfriend and you can see him being awesome here.) After middle school, I realized I didn’t like sitting around waiting for phone calls so I just started calling whoever I wanted to call…or would go do something else. Maybe I can learn a similar lesson here.

Gulp, I’d hate someone to know this about me. 

Sometimes I think a lot about an email before sending it. Do people need to know how LONG I’m considering my response? Gosh, I hope not. In a higher stakes situation, my hesitation or re-reading an email over and over could cost me a contract or a friendship.

I am of the school ‘don’t knock it until you try it’ but I’m just going to say it: I’d rather not know. And I’d rather it not be known about me either. I think I’ll be kicking out Sidekick real soon… but to those of you who have tried it who aren’t creeped out, please leave a comment below about some benefits you were able to notice in using a technology like this!

 

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.
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