Don’t miss out! Be sure to check out Chapter 1!
Take a few minutes and reflect on what you’ve accomplished this past week. We’ll wait.
How much of your day was spent handling random, one-off things that either could have been handled by someone else, or took priority over what you really needed to get done?
Yeah, we thought so. Fortunately, we have got you covered. We can get through this together.
While we suggest joining forces with one of our stellar VA’s—You can take care of the enemy that is email by doing one of three things with all of your inbound communications:
Your VA may be really smart, but is not a mind reader (that costs extra).
It’s up to you to provide context as to what your priorities are. The first pass you can use is based on who your contacts are. You know how you setup your “favorites” on your phone? That’s an important filter. It’s a reflection of who in your world gets more attention than others. We need that list for the rest of your life.
→ ACTION: Share a list of your critical contacts to form “A-List”, “B-List” & “D-List” ←
The “A Listers” are the people who get VIP treatment. Your spouse, your kids, your boss, your customers, your investors, your doctor. When those messages come through the door, you want 100% of your attention on there.
The “B-Listers” you’ll get to later. These are the equivalent of friends on Facebook that you’re not unfriending, but they aren’t showing up first in your feed. You don’t know if they are married, whether they have kids, or what they’ve been doing since High School. They aren’t on the A-List but you’d still like to be reminded that they reached out.
The “D-Listers” get no love. This is pretty much everyone else. These are the Pauly Shores of contacts. Don’t know who Pauly Shore is? Even better. Everything from Buzzfeed to the sales person who keeps hounding you for a meeting. You want all of these emails to never make it to your world to begin with.
The priority lists will change over time. You’re not going cold turkey here. For the first few days/weeks/months you’re still going to review email as it comes in and add/remove people from these lists until you tune it perfectly. For the time being, it’s just important to know you’ll need to start working on the list.
Have you ever gone on vacation and later read all of the emails that you “missed”? Did you ever notice a pattern of how many problems had been solved on their own or weren’t relevant to respond to until 3 or 4 emails back and forth?
Almost by accident you created a “time delayed filter” which allowed a little bit of time to let situations resolve themselves. What if you could do that more often?
You can do this by having your VA add a “time delayed filter” to many of your communications. It sounds fancy but it’s really just a simple method for intercepting emails.
→ ACTION: Start answering emails with time-delaying queries to help sort what needs attention and in what order to respond to things. ←
Respond quickly with a time-based query. Have your VA send a response on your behalf with “What time do you need this by?” This forces the sender to help you frame the priority of the task but also allows you to figure out where you can fit it into your own schedule – without having to guess.
Do an interim check-in. Remember that most tasks expire or become less important entirely on their own. Before you start working on the task, have your VA email “I’m about to start working on this, just making sure this is still a priority.” Most good citizens will let you know fairly quickly if it’s not. You may be surprised how often this happens.
Establish Priority. If I send you an email asking you to do something it doesn’t necessarily mean you should drop everything else and work on that. Instead your first question should be a soft-query on whether this is a priority. If you were to ask me to fill out a company survey and I wrote back “I’m working on our company marketing plan, can it wait?” there’s a 99% chance the sender would say “yes.” If your VA is doing this for you, think of how many potential “projects” you can avoid by not having them move into your priority queue to begin with.
The key to all of these is simply having the communication to begin with. These don’t need to be complicated explanations or questions – just asking folks to help you create some priority will be a huge win.
Every email you successfully banish is a moment of your life you’ve earned back!
There are typically two types of emails that need to be destroyed – obvious junk and “sorta obvious” junk. The obvious junk are things akin to SPAM or clear mass-mailers without any particular reference to you personally. The “less obvious” stuff is where things get tricky.
Instead of hoping your VA sorts everything perfectly, your best bet is to simply create a “Sort Me” folder that is digital purgatory for email that may or may not make it to “response heaven.”
Over time your VA will get better at figuring out which emails should get attention and which should not, so use this folder as a way to make sure you still get an eye on your stuff early on without having to worry about losing anything.
Even the act of getting enough of your email into the “Sort Me” folder as opposed to having to respond to it right away will be a big win. It’s not about just getting rid of all email, it’s about getting it into a place where you can respond with the right amount of attention at the appropriate time.
Seems easy enough, right? We promise that if you—or if you have your VA—put in a little bit of time to get these filters set up, you’ll have a better handle of your inbox. In turn, you’ll be more productive, less-stressed and have the best hair day ever. (Ok, we can’t guarantee that last one..)
Create a communication plan with your VA so they can dredge through your inbox each day—sending you only the important things your way.
Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes Bizplan, Clarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.