Here at CNCCookbook, we offer a number of ways to get in touch. Some are faster or slower based on how I prioritize the inputs. Some are more guaranteed than others to get a result. Just for the record, let me quickly walk through these mechanisms, and then I want to focus on Email. So, if you need to get a response from CNCCookbook, here’s how you go about it in order of how quickly and surely that response will come:
#1 File a Customer Service ticket on our User Portal. This is a dedicated software application designed to nag us until we have responded to each query there.
#2 Drop us an Email. This method is nearly as good as #1 in terms of how fast you’ll get a response and how likely it is we will respond, but not quite. I personally get probably 300 emails a day from the CNCCookbook audience. I work hard to answer each and every one of them, but there is a pecking order (more on that shortly) and let’s face it: sometimes emails do get lost. They get stuck in spam filters or they just don’t get taken care of soon enough and scroll off never to be heard from again.
#3 Self-Service. I don’t know about you, but this is always my personal go-to first choice. If I can help myself rather than having to wait for help, it usually gets done a lot faster. We offer quite a lot of FAQ and Documentation style information that can all be found under the “Help” menu at the top of our pages. These resources are updated by us probably the least often, so if you don’t find what you’re looking for already there, fastest thing is to drop back to #1.
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s dig into my formula for managing email.
Keeping Your Email Inbox Clear
I’ve spent quite a while putting together the tool kit and techniques I use to get through my email as quickly and efficiently as possible. As mentioned, I go through about 300 emails a day, sometimes trending up to 600-800 during busy times like Sales and new product Launches. Let’s start with the software I use and why.
The email client I like is Gmail. It’s not perfect, but it is pretty darned good. Here’s what I like about it:
– I can manage multiple inboxes and email addresses with it. You can add email accounts and they all turn up in the same inbox. As you respond to email, the response goes back out using whatever FROM address was mailed to originally. I’d go crazy in a very short time if I had to check multiple inboxes.
– The user interface is reasonably easy to use and suits my needs well.
– I can easily access it from any device. I regularly view email from my desktop software development machine (Windows 7 PC), my laptop (Macbook Air), my iPad, and even my iPhone. I do not like to use apps on the mobile devices and the web app works great for me with Gmail.
– It’s free!
Gmail Labs Add-Ons
Google has a set of optional Add-Ons you can pick and choose from that enhance Gmail. I am using two of them at the moment:
– Send & Archive. Gmail has a function called Archive. Once you archive email, it is only accessible by search and disappears from your Inbox. I archive anything I am done with rather than deleting it so I can refer back to it. With Send & Archive, you hit the Send button and that email thread is archived. Of course, you have the option to Send without archiving too, but this just saves me a step toward emptying a distracting Inbox.
– Canned Responses. This is a God send for business email. Inevitably, the same questions get asked many times or the same announcements need to be sent. This feature just automates the boiler plate using a menu right in Gmail. Saves me a lot of time and makes sure everyone gets a response that I’ve thought through carefully and made as helpful as possible.
I’ve added Active Inbox in the last six months as email volumes continued to climb and boy has it made a difference for me!
Imagine having a super-powerful ToDo facility that’s tightly integrated with your email. That’s what Active Inbox does. I can take any Email and mark it as requiring either “Action” or “Waiting On”. The former is a way of putting off response or reminding yourself you promised to do something or some follow up is needed. “Waiting On” is a way to check up and see if the recipient ever responded to the message you sent. In addition to these two states, there is a Calendar that lets you say how soon follow up is needed:
– Beginning of Next Week
– Specific Day
With a couple of clicks, I set up my follow-up ToDo item and then archive the email to get it out of my Inbox. Even though archived, the email thread will show up in 2 new Inboxes right on the same page that Active Inbox manages. You get one marked “Today” and one marked “Upcoming”. You guess it, “Today” is everything you had marked as needing “Action” or “Waiting On” with today’s date. “Upcoming” is everything else.
Time Clock: Scheduled Email Breaks
As important as being productive when processing emails can be, it is also crucial to schedule your email time carefully. Left to my own devices, I would constantly be checking it. That wastes a lot of time and constantly interrupts other important tasks, which is a drain on productivity. There are time management strategies (Pomodoro is one such) that suggest you want to do focused work punctuated by regular breaks for best productivity. I practice this sort of thing.
You can get all sorts of free and pay apps to help schedule this, but I find the timer on my iPhone works great. Basically, I schedule 50 minutes of focused work (say writing G-Wizard Software code or new posts for this blog) followed by a 10 minute break during which I do some email. So, I have a 50 minute timer and a 10 minute timer and I alternate them. I’m not a slave to it, sometimes you’re on a roll and want to keep going. But most of the time, switching back and forth on my tasks creates a helpful and natural rhythm.
My Email Process: Maximum Productivity
So, putting those tools together, here is my maximum productivity email formula:
1. Timer goes off telling me to spend 10 minutes on email.
2. Pop up Gmail. I keep it closed otherwise so there is no temptation.
3. Start going down the Inbox. If I can resolve an email in 2 minutes or less, I do so.
4. If it’s going to take me longer than 2 minutes, I use Active Inbox and mark that email for later Action. I’ll assign an urgency accordingly and it’ll wind up in Today, Tomorrow, or Start of Next Week. Rarely, I push it out further. For example, I may get a note months in advance reminding me my credit card on file is about to expire.
5. Once I’ve made it through the Inbox, if there is still time on the timer, I jump up to the “Today” inbox for Active Inbox. These are the things I marked at some point as needing more than 2 minutes and being due Today.
6. I process “Today” in order from top to bottom.
7. If I get done with “Today”, which is rare, I will either go on down into “Upcoming” or I will allocate a little more time to my non-email activities depending on which I regard as more pressing.
It takes a little experience to get the routine down, but once you do, it’s hard to beat it for productivity and staying on top of your email inbox. If you’re in business and need to stay on top of your inbox, particularly for sales or talking to customers, I highly recommend it!
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