Get Control of Your eMail

This week’s guest blogger is Chris Sequeira, he writes about self, society, and sustainability on his blog Master This Machine.

The business of photography has a simple core: pictures, passion, and client relationships. Our lives as photographers would be simple indeed if only we could snap photos, have our cameras send previews to our clients automatically, and relax as the sales roll in. Of course, the business of photography is just like other businesses in a fundamental way: there’s “fun” time, and then there’s “work” time. Whether you’re a business owner or an employee, one big part of “work” time is dealing with email. Opening up your email inbox in the morning to find a hundred emails is intimidating even if each letter says, “I’d like to buy your photos!” To unlock productivity in your work life, you have to get control of your email.

Your email address is special; share it selectively.

More and more people are adopting online communication mediums like Twitter and Google+ for business activities, but email is still king for many professionals. Your email address is special because it’s a quick route to your attention – and, by extension, your energy. To begin getting control of your email, share your email address selectively. Ask yourself which people and mass messages are so important that they should have access to your inbox. Take a particularly hard look at those LinkedIn group updates, weekly Twitter summaries, and other mass messages that you’ve subscribed to. Do you hit the delete button or file those messages away for “later” as soon as you see them? If you do, you might not miss much if you unsubscribe.

Is your email the boss of you? Reprioritize it, and treat it as a task.

Does your email app notify you whenever a new email arrives? If it does, do you find yourself stopping whatever you’re doing so you can read the letter? When you check your email at every beep of the alert, you make your email your boss. Instead, think of the activity of checking and responding to letters as a task that you schedule time for. Once you adopt this mindset, you can prioritize emailing just as you would prioritize any other task in your day. You’ll likely find that email isn’t at the top of your priority list, which means you don’t have to check your inbox whenever an alert sounds… and that means you don’t need your email alerts.

Treat emailing as a task by turning off your email alerts and checking email only at particular times during the day.

Some of you might indeed find email at the top of your priority list; maybe every message you get needs an immediate response. But ask yourself: “is every letter I receive truly an urgent one?” Maybe you’ll find that the vast majority doesn’t need quick responses but letters from a few select people need replies right away. If that’s the case, some email apps let you make sender-specific alerts that only notify you when letters from certain senders arrive.

When it’s time to check your inbox, make a first pass through new messages without responding to anything.

When you check email occasionally, you’ll likely find a stack of messages in your inbox each time. An effective way to deal with these messages is to read them twice; yes, twice! Specifically, make two passes through your new messages. On the first pass, read through the emails with the singular goal of understanding their content. This helps you avoid situations where you might respond to a letter only to discover later that a different message made your response unnecessary or inappropriate. You might even find opportunities to respond to multiple messages with just one email of your own. Also try to delete or file away letters that don’t need any response so that they don’t distract you later.

On the second pass through new messages, write back to every letter.

Seeing a big pile of messages grow bigger and bigger adds to your feeling of being overwhelmed, even if you’ve already read each letter. To help keep that feeling at bay, take a second pass through your inbox and respond to every message – or a group of messages if that’s appropriate (which helps cut down email overload for other people!). Attempting an email reply as the first choice of action helps you to take care of the email topic once and for all so that you can get the topic out of your mind.

It’s true that many messages might require you to do some task before you can respond. If the task would only take a few minutes, do the task right away and then write back immediately afterward. Resist the urge to tag the email as “follow-up” or make a to-do item unless you truly have to put in a good amount of time on a task before you can write back; filing lots of messages away in a “follow-up” folder, for example, only makes a big pile of emails outside of your inbox.

The essence: get control of your email by putting it in its place!

The essence of email control is treating email like any other task, rather than as something that demands your immediate attention. The tips above work best when you combine them together: being selective with your email address reduces the flow of messages, checking email occasionally lets you prioritize email activity, and taking a two-pass approach to responses helps you understand the content of new messages and then clear your inbox and your mind quickly. Implementing these emailing tips can help you gain productivity and make more room for “fun” time in your photography business.

Let me know how these tips work for you. If you have any other ones – please share them. We all need help with our inbox!

Chris Sequeira writes about self, society, and sustainability at his blog Master This Machine.