During the busy time of year – or tax season – many firms find themselves buried under mountains of email. And once email hits a critical mass, it can be nearly impossible to get organized again. When looking at productivity in firms, we have found that busy legal and financial professionals say managing email is a very time consuming and frustrating act that takes time away from their true work.
Unfortunately, however annoying email is, it’s a key part of a firm’s communication process in this digital age. For this reason, it’s essential to develop habits or systems that help you manage your email, and in the process help your clients. We’ve outlined six email organizing tips below. These tips are ones we’ve tried, recommended, and found to be successful. Remember – at the end of the day, a well-organized inbox will ultimately help you serve your clients better.
1. Create Priority Labels
It’s frustrating to open your inbox and see a never-ending list of old emails, not to mention the unread new ones! It can leave you struggling to remember who to respond to first and what needs to be looked at immediately. The solution? Priority labels. From top to bottom, assigning each piece of email a priority label will help you to know where to focus your time. A few of our favorites:
- Next Week
- High Priority
- Low Priority
- Next Month
Feel free to customize these with a time-bound deadline – such as one day or 24 hours. The visual queue will let you easily see which items need to be addressed right away. Label each and every piece of mail as you send or receive it. Then remove the label when the email has been closed up. It might be difficult to get into the habit, but once you start labeling and moving content – it gets easier.
2. Set Time Blocks
If possible, set time blocks by client, projects, or time of day. For example, set aside time on your calendar for a 30-minute block first thing in the morning to get through as many emails as you can. Or set aside a 15-minute block on your calendar to manage emails for a specific client. Studies have shown that segmenting time for a particular task makes you more likely to focus on that task and be more effective in the action. For email time blocks to work, you need to make sure that you are not bombarded by email at random times in the day. If possible, close your email or turn off notifications at certain times – nothing disrupts productivity like having a constantly pinging inbox.
3. Create Actionable Labels or Folders
One of the biggest barriers to managing email is feeling overwhelmed by trying to remember the status of each email. By grouping email into specific status-oriented folders, you can easily track what needs to be done and focus on one set of actions at a time. A few of our favorite labels are:
- Immediate Action
- Follow-up in 2 days
- Waiting for Reply
- Schedule meeting
If labels are too much, folders are the next best thing. Create a folder for actions; as each piece of email comes in, it is moved to a folder. Then when you have your email time block, you know exactly where to go to access the most pressing email.
4. Set Up a Closed Folder
This is a folder for projects, items, and work that has been closed and no longer is of importance. Having this instead of deleting emails is a nice way to remove the visual queue of email, but not lose something you might need to check on a few months later. If you’ve followed the suggestion above, a closed folder is a fantastic location to move email that you’ve addressed in your email time block. It removes the visual clutter. If you happen to occasionally panic (like we all do) that you’ve forgotten to follow-up, you can always go back and search the closed folder.
5. Create a Folder for Each Client, Project, or Business Area
This might seem obvious, but so many individuals don’t do this! Having a folder labeled by each client, project, or business area is one of the best ways to organize incoming communications. Once emails are addressed, they can be placed in a folder and moved out of the queue. If you have a question, need to check a project status, or remember that one thing from that one email 3 weeks ago – you can rest easy knowing you filed everything correctly. Plus, having these larger folders allows you to immediately know the status of each email. Think about it: how great would it be open your inbox and see “Client A – Needs Immediate Action”?
6. Use an Email Template Plugin such a Gorgias
This allows you to set up simple email templates with subject; attachments; and the to, BCC and CC fields pre-filled. For example, if you have to send the same group of people the same information or an invoice each week, this is a great way to set up the email in advance to make sure you don’t forget someone in the BCC. Draft up a few canned responses that you can customize. For example, you can send an email saying, “Thanks for reaching out! As you know this is the busy time for my firm, so I’ve made a note to follow up with you [INSERT DATE].”
Email should be a useful communication tool, not a ball and chain. By taking small steps to address organization, you can gain control of your email box. The benefits are clear:
- More time to focus on what you enjoy
- Less client communication dropped
- Quicker response to leads
- Decreased stress from that triple digital in box number.
- And most importantly of all: A less stressed you which means you are a happier, more engaged practitioner at your firm.
And don’t worry, you don’t need to try all of these suggestions at once. Start small, with a few action-oriented labels, then move into time blocks. Soon you’ll have an email box that will be envy of your firm. You’ll be surprised that you ever managed email differently!
Need help getting your email and client communication organized? Contact with PSM. Professional marketing service Minnesota create strategy to make your client communication sing and give you more time to focus on what you love.