Do you answer all of the emails that come in?
Obviously you answer the really important ones and you don’t answer the spam, but I mean the ones in between, the unsolicited ones you don’t really have to answer, but could and might even get some small benefit from answering.
Here are two extreme ways to handle these emails:
- Some people answer every email themselves, even hundreds a day. Many years ago, I heard Gary Vaynerchuk say he used to personally answer something like 700 emails a day, which took him something like 7 hours. Whether or not the number is true, it seems he answered all of his emails.
- Other people answer basically no emails except the ones they really want to answer. I’ve done that with SmilingGardener.com. On the contact page, I let people know that I don’t answer gardening questions via email, so they’re better to ask in the blog comments where I do answer. That’s better for me because it provides value to everyone who visits that blog page, and adds more social proof to my site by increasing the comments (side note: turning off blog comments is another minimalist strategy that sometimes makes good sense).
Most of us fall somewhere in between the two extremes, answering the emails we think we should answer.
Answering emails can help your business, but it can also waste a lot of time, especially the compulsive checking and answering of emails that keeps you from getting into the flow on your other important tasks.
So it’s good to spend less time doing that. Here’s how I do it:
- Stop checking so often. When we check our email, we’re often just looking for a little love – a note from a friend, a product sold on our site, an opportunity to be inspired. But instead we often get little tasks to do – answering a customer question, helping mom find her lost Word document, reading a blog post from Greg Faxon. That’s all okay, but it would be better to batch these emails into just a few times per day, and give yourself a time limit to answer them.
- Stop answering so fast. If someone emails me and I respond within an hour, they think we’re in a conversation. They email me back and expect an email back from me. That’s why, when possible, I wait 24 hours to respond to emails. It sets an expectation that I often take that long to respond, so they may be better off to figure out the answer on their own, or they would at least benefit from clearly stating what they need from me.
- Don’t reply on willpower. I’ll admit it – I can’t stop checking email of my own accord. I’m too interested in getting the love. So that’s why I use an app called Self Control on my Mac (there’s one called Cold Turkey for Windows) to turn off access to my email. At a certain point every night, usually between 8 and 10pm, I set it to block email and facebook until 10am the next day. That means I can enjoy the rest of my evening without submitting to the urge to check email, and when I start work in the morning, I can spend the first couple of hours eating my frog instead of responding to emails, ie. doing what I should be doing rather than what other people want me to do. Then, after I’ve checked and answered my email in the morning, I set the app for another few hours so I can get more work done, and I continue to set it as needed throughout the day. I highly recommend this tactic! Do it now!
- My autoresponder. For certain email addresses of mine, people get an autoresponder where I tell them I may not be able to answer their question. If I do answer it, they’re thrilled because they weren’t expecting it. Feel free to use it and improve upon it:
- FAQs. You can cut back on incoming emails (and phone calls) by having an FAQ section displayed prominently on your website. Link to it in the above autoresponder, too. It can take awhile to create this, which is why I recommend you do it over time. As soon as you have a few FAQs, create the page, and then add to it when you notice another FAQ. Don’t answer the questions you wish people would ask (“Phil, how do you keep your hair so fluffy?”), but rather, answer the actual frequently asked questions so you can stop answering them via email.
- Reusing common emails. I use gmail to manage my business email, and it has a feature called ‘canned responses’ that allows me to save and reuse common emails I send. With just a couple of clicks I can paste the saved email, edit as needed, and send (you need to go to gmail Settings…Labs to turn this feature on).
I’ve been meaning to put up some FAQs at SmilingGardener.com for 2 years. I haven’t done it because it would mean going back through all of my emails and figuring out what people ask me the most.
Fortunately, I have a person who does odd jobs like this for me, and I’m planning to have her do this in 2016 (she’s busy with other tasks for me this year).
And that’s the next step for getting rid of emails and other similarly time-crushing tasks: outsource them. That’s coming up in the next lesson.