Manage Emails

Would you like to get your email inbox down to zero by the end of each day? I didn’t know such a thing was possible. You may wonder – what magic is this?

I am #Tall Tartan Talks … and I have started reading a non-fiction business book called Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott.

One particular chapter which struck me immediately was about managing your emails. His strategies were revolutionary for me. This blog post is a review of that chapter.

I *was* one of those people who had over 200 emails in each of my three inboxes. I sorted them occasionally. Inevitably, if I include my smartphone, I was prone to checking them far too often. Always scrolling through social media. Just like you.

Cluttered inbox

I starred or flagged some important or urgent emails for easy reference, but my inbox was becoming unmanageable. My professional email, annie@proofnow.co.uk was the fullest. My personal gmail account wasn’t much better.

Then, I found Ninja Email Processing, the chapter where Graham says, “Be a Ninja – take a ruthless approach to emails!” Now I adopt his strategy daily.

Interested? This is how you do it.

Reduce your inbox to zero daily

The bare bones of how to get started are:

  1. Open emails
  2. Create three new files: Action, Read, Waiting
  3. Scan the first couple of lines of each email. If it needs to be dealt with immediately, move into Action. If it isn’t important, move to Read. If you are waiting for someone else to action, move to Waiting.

I used to look at my growing email notifications, groan inwardly, feel fear and overwhelm, avoid, then stress about what might be in my inbox. When I was waiting for a particular email from a client, I would pause a job whenever a notification sounded, whether that job was proofreading, or tuition preparation. I had to check then and there who it was from.

STOP!

Graham suggests that the problem needs to be viewed in a different way: your email inbox is just where your emails land; don’t check your emails, process your emails; and don’t let your emails nag you all day.

Strategy

Firstly, look at your inbox as a landing page, not a to-do list. We tend to keep the emails in that inbox so we don’t lose them. The answer? New folders need to be created to hold actionable emails, and those emails which can be deferred.

Secondly, restrict checking emails to three times a day: first thing in the morning, or 9am (or whenever your business day starts); and 4:30pm to give you 30 minutes of reducing your email list to zero. Or later, if you don’t stop on the dot of 5pm. You may also want to check emails at lunchtime. Me … I am slowly restricting my addiction of reading of emails after 8pm … The same goes for checking social media or Slack. (My excuse is that some of my colleagues are in a different time zone.)

How to process (not check) emails:

  1. Scan the first email for a couple of seconds. Don’t hang about. Ask yourself, is it vital I action this? If yes, move to Action.
  2. Scan the next email. If someone is acknowledging they will action something you have delegated, move to Waiting. This guarantees that you will have a reminder to follow this up.
  3. If the next email is something not at all urgent but for perusing, say, a subscription which you want to read at your leisure, move to Read. Don’t start reading it now.
  4. Repeat steps 1–3.
  5. By the end of 30 minutes, there should be zero emails in your inbox.
  6. Repeat three times a day.

Subject folders

You may be like me and organise your emails into many subject or archive folders. Again, this can get out of hand. My next job is to whittle those down to more efficient descriptors. So that when I have gone through my burgeoning Read file, I will move each email to a re-named folder. Or delete it.

Graham’s theory is that if you have only three files to move the incoming emails into, it makes decision-making and sorting much easier. Agonising will be reduced to a manageable level.

If, say after a week, you look in the Read folder and email subject is no longer current or valid, delete. Or move it to an archive folder.

One of Graham’s tips is to think of a set of Ds: decide, do, delegate, defer, delete.

Cut the dead wood

Perhaps you subscribe to newsletters by email. For example, if you follow particular people for their business or subject knowledge … there are many out there. It may be time to review them and prune who you subscribe to.

Try subscribing to one for six months. Count how many of their newsletters you actually read (and follow the advice suggested) in those six months. Be honest. Be brutal. Cut out the dead wood and unsubscribe if the answer is only one or two. That is one way to reduce the number of emails you get …

If you are successful with this method, you will feel you have more control over those incoming emails.

Information overload

Information overload is a threat to our prductivity, so I recommend Graham’s book if you want to be proactive about reducing that overload. By managing your emails, and your time, by procrastinating less, you can focus on your priorities.

There you have it. If you learnt something from this post, find my other blog posts about my freelancing business here.

I look forward to finishing the book. Guess what – I have signed up for his newsletter.

Background: Graham Allcott

Founder of Think Productive (@thinkproductive), Graham Allcott is an entrepreneur, author, speaker and podcaster, coaching strategies for business and time management. He is host of the podcast Beyond Busy. His book was first published by Icon Books Publication in 2014, and totally revised in 2019 because of the advances in technology.

Other chapters in Graham’s book include:

  • The Organize Habit
  • The Review Habit
  • The Do Habit
  • Stop Messing About on Your Phone

Review of 2019

Life as a freelancer has its ups and downs. In this blog post I review how my business has fared in 2019, with both successes and lessons learnt.

A thick skin needs to be developed to cope with the downs. But the ups are ever so rewarding and uplifting. Many of my freelance colleagues will agree with those sentiments. I have certainly honed the ‘3Ps’ (patience, perseverance and persistence).

Slow burn

My year has been busy, particularly with Primary tutoring, but I’m pleased to report that the proofreading side of the business perked up. Those who have been at it a lot longer say it can be a slow burn, taking up to three years to get established and known as a freelancer. I agree. My business has grown.

Winter review

A proofreading job in January with an unsatisfactory client did not start the year well. A lack of communication meant I was left feeling humiliated. Lessons were learnt on both sides, so best forgotten.

Spring review

For the first four months of 2019, the proofreading jobs were very few and far between, and a lot of freelancers shared their worries on social media about paying bills.

I have found it is good to have a wee part-time job to take away some of the stress of the unreliability of the freelance income. Fortunately, the tuition I offered increased to five afternoons a week. My Friday became a Saturday to fit in with my husband’s cycling schedule.

Marketing review

Being fully booked with Primary tuition meant that my income wasn’t so much of an issue, but I was doing all I could to could to market myself as an available proofreader. Sending cold emails, writing blog posts, and sharing on social media continued though to Easter. I was even asked to do a proofreading test for an educational publisher! But no work has come of it yet – something to chase up in January 2020.

IM available

By April, I had a proofreading request from the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). A director found me on their list of available Intermediate Members. If you are an Entry Level Member it’s worth trying to gain points by training and experience to upgrade to IM. Then you qualify to appear in their internal list of IMs, appearing visible for work opportunities.

They wanted a proofreader to check some new proofreading exercises which will be part of a resource bank. I thought this was a brilliant job! The role involved *test-driving* the exercises and feedbacking back on the time taken and their effectiveness. The job continued, interspersed with voluntary editing until the end of August.

Summer review

August used to be when I went on holiday. As an ex-teacher there are more months available now. So I made myself available for the summer.

 

In August, I got a surprise email from a local business. It appears that it is advantageous to have a ‘Google My Business’ profile. The client had googled ‘proofreaders in Essex’. My name popped up. I was away on a short break for my wedding anniversary. So, having a sneaky peek of my emails while he wasn’t looking, I offered to refer the prospective client to other IM proofreaders. No, he said, he could wait. There was no rush. Wow, I thought, this job sounds hopeful.

He explained that his company writes on-line courses for health and safety qualifications. They asked if they could email a course to be proofread as a trial. So I established Terms and Conditions … We would see how we got on liaising. Then there might be future courses to proofread.

A flexible client

The trial job was proofreading a course on which consisted of 8 modules with roughly 20 PDF slides in each module. Some with few words, some heavily worded. I created a Style Sheet, then set up a Query Sheet for any questions I had.

The promised return in one week was achieved. I invoiced and asked for a feedback testimonial to put on my website. This job continued to be special as the invoice was paid the same day it was presented – plus their feedback was gracious! I am still basking in the afterglow of that positive working experience.

When I shared on Twitter that I had a queue of two clients – the first time I have had to organise a schedule – another client appeared.

I shared that I had appreciated the fact that the August client had been prepared to wait until I had finished a regular monthly editing job I do. A children’s author saw my post and booked me in for a proofreading job in September. So getting yourself out there *does* put you into the eyeline of prospective clients – if you’re in the right place at the right time.

Perfect job

The September client, a dyslexia expert, is a published author with Jessica Kingsley Publishers. She wanted my teaching expertise to proofread her book about teaching punctuation to Key Stage 2 and 3 (aged 8 to 13). She uses a lot of humour to help make the learning easier and fun.

Again, this was a super project to work on as both of us were communicative and collaborative. The best kind of client relationship.

Networking and CPD in 2019

I got out and about to the following events:

  1. May: SfEP mini conference in Newcastle (see blog post here)
  2. September: SfEP Annual Conference in Birmingham (see blog post here)
  3. November: Cambridge Social Media Day (see my summary on my profile page on LinkedIn by searching #CSMDay2019). How to be more savvy with your content marketing on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
  4. Meetings of my local Herts & Essex SfEP group through the year have provided opportunities for mutual support and fruitful discussion. For me the meetings have been sacrosanct – timetabled in my work diary and essential for my well-being.

Sharing experience and wisdom

It appears that, by this stage in my freelancing career, I have become someone who is respected as established and supportive to newbie freelancers. Thank you to the folks, especially former teachers, who have shared their appreciation of my blog posts this year with positive responses.

New year plan

Going into 2020, I have successfully applied to be mentored through the SfEP Proofreading Mentoring scheme. I am really looking forward to working with my mentor through into next year.

Meanwhile, I want to update my branding, so have bought Louise Harnby‘s ‘Branding Lite’ course. I bought her ‘Blogging Lite’ course last spring to help me plan how I was going to write blog posts for the year ahead and beyond. Look at me now … happy blogging anniversary to me!

So I have a winter of studying ahead. Can’t wait.

Finally, I wish you and yours blessings, and peace and joy for the new year ahead.

 

 

 

Kindly proofread by SfEP Intermediate Member Lisa de Caux.