Like it or not, email is still a major business and personal communication vehicle, just like telephone calls. Your business and your integrity are being judged every day by your responsiveness to emails, and no one likes to do business with a dead-letter box. Unresponsive people and businesses lose friends and customers quickly.
If you are one of the “new generation” who simply doesn’t do email, then don’t publish an email address, and delete all email accounts. That way, people won’t send messages, or at least will get an undeliverable notice to trigger follow-up.
The real problem is people who only check their email every few weeks, have ten different email addresses, or have thousands of messages queued in their in-box for storage. Every one of these is a sure-fire way to lose customers and get tagged as a personal deadbeat.
On the positive side, there are some things you can do and should do to manage your email effectively, and be seen as a responsive friend and business:
- Reroute little used accounts to your primary address. Every reputable email system has a mechanism for rerouting email from a secondary address to one that you monitor daily. Many systems, such as Outlook, allow you to receive from multiple addresses into one inbox. Use it.
- Use the inbox for staging, not storage. You should move emails needing work to an “Action Items” folder, or a “Read Only” folder, or completed items to a “Log” folder. At the very least, use the “flag for follow-up” feature. Otherwise important items will be overlooked, and you will be discouraged by the sheer volume of items in front of you.
- Set response time and follow-up goals. I have a personal objective of getting all email messages out of my inbox within 24 hours (like returning every voicemail within 24 hours). Any feedback like “Received your request, but need a couple of weeks for research” will make you a hero. Then just follow-up as promised.
- Use the auto-response feature. If you are leaving for two weeks of vacation or away on travel, and don’t want to handle email, activate the auto-response feature to instantly reply to every email with “On vacation for two weeks, will respond when I return.”
- Watch out for aggressive spam filters. We all know that one person’s spam is another person’s favorite joke or message. I recommend you select the most un-aggressive settings, so you have to delete a few extras, but don’t miss an important message.
- Look for buried questions in your email. Although one could argue that this is the sender’s problem, you can avoid being the bad guy by looking hard for a question or issue that might suggest a response. Some people bury questions in a long message, which you thought was info only, and then tag you for not responding.
The key here is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. How many times have you sent an email to the contact or support address for a business (email@example.com), never to receive a reply? What a great way to lose customers and friends!
Everyone is busy these days, but we all know people who are “so busy”, but never seem to get anything done, or even answer emails. I subscribe to an old management principle that you should handle mail only once, meaning just do it, don’t shuffle it.
Managing your email queue is just one aspect of time management, and poor time management is a startup killer. Another killer is to get your business or yourself defined as a deadbeat. The opposite of dead is responsive. Be there all the time, every time, and you will be ahead of the pack.