Three Email Habits of Highly Effective Advisors
Email can be a great convenience or a big burden. An efficient tool or a waste of time. It’s all in how you use it. Develop bad habits, and it can leave you stressed out and spinning your wheels. But these good habits can help you feel more organized and in control.
We’ve all met someone who has hundreds of emails in various states of reading, replying, or “saving for later” sitting in their inbox. Maybe you’re that person. Perhaps you’ve heard the legend of the financial advisor who keeps their inbox empty and up-to-date. If that’s you, you can stop reading now.
Most of us are stuck somewhere in between, juggling emails from clients, colleagues, friends, family, newsletters, companies with whom we do business, promotions from places we shop, notifications from websites we visit, and more.
Unfortunately, the following ideas cannot answer your emails for you, but they can bring valuable structure to the process. Try following them for at least three weeks. That should be enough time to see how well they work and develop some new email habits that have the potential to improve your quality of life.
Habit #1: Guard your inbox
The first thing you need to do is reduce the number of emails that you receive. This will require some tedious work upfront, and then it will get much easier. Start by going through everything in your inbox and unsubscribing from the emails you no longer wish to receive.
If a sender is compliant with Canadian anti-spam laws, there will be a clear “unsubscribe” link somewhere in the email, usually in the footer at the bottom. In some cases, this link will take you to a page where you can customize your subscription settings. This allows you to do things like continue receiving essential emails but stop receiving promotional stuff. If there is no unsubscribe link, you can reply with ‘unsubscribe’ or also use “block sender” or “mark as spam” options in your email platform to keep them out of your inbox.
It can be helpful to set some standards for your inbox audit. You might feel tempted to stay on an email list for fear of missing out on something important in the future. But if you haven’t engaged with a sender in, say, a year or more, it might be time to cut the cord. Trust that if they have information you truly want or need someday, you will Google your way back to them.
Once you pare down your inbound emails, be vigilant about what you let back in. There are a million ways to end up on subscription lists, either intentionally or by accident. Beware of opting into new lists when you register for websites or make purchases online, for example.
Habit #2: Set a schedule
Book a specific time (or times) of the day to handle emails. This takes some discipline. We’ve all been busy working on some tasks, then seen an email come in from someone – perhaps someone we’ve been waiting to hear from – so we drop everything to read it. Before we know it, we’ve spent an hour mucking around in our inbox.
Emails will always arrive. A few will be urgent or important, but the vast majority will not. Allowing email to constantly interrupt your day is a formula for low productivity. Plus, when you start replying to emails in a distracted state of mind, it increases the odds of careless errors (typos, forgotten attachments) and missed opportunities (forgetting to communicate something timely or important).
Once you’ve done a ruthless audit of your inbox, you will receive less email overall. Then you can set aside focused times to give your inbox your full, undivided attention.
Habit #3: Handle every email
This is the rule that will really change the way you use your email. It is important that you handle every email that you receive right away. No more “saving for later.” Sit down at your scheduled time each day and handle every email in one of the four following ways:
- Delete. Most emails will not require a reply and do not need to be saved. Delete these right away.
- Do. If an email does require a reply, do it now. If you wish to keep it for future reference, save it in a folder. Do not leave it in your inbox.
- Delegate. If you can delegate the email to someone else, do it now.
- Defer. Once everything is either deleted, replied to, filed, or delegated, the only thing left in your inbox should be those emails that, for some reason, you can’t action right away. This turns your inbox into a to-do list of sorts. Each time you return to your inbox, you will see these emails waiting to be deleted, replied to, filed, or delegated as soon as you can do so.
With a little upfront work, a little discipline, and a commitment to systematically handling everything that lands in your inbox, email can become much more productive. It can help you feel more organized and in control rather than less so. And that makes you a more effective advisor.