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So, one of our biggest goals is to get rid of all of the time sucking aspects of email. Email drains our time because we don’t process it properly.
For example—take a quick peek at your inbox.
Are you back? Cool.
Well, you’ll note that there is typically only one factor that sorts all of those wonderful and random messages—and that is Time.
While this will help you figure out who’s emailing you at 3am, and who emailed you a few seconds ago—it really doesn’t tell you what’s “important”. Like, at all.
So, let’s have your inbox do the heavy lifting for you so you can focus on what is really important, rather than who hit the “send” button last.
Here at Zirtual, we’ve created a tried and true system that has helped many of our high performing clients for some time. What we do sounds simple, because it is. The trick is to continually follow through with this process.
So, the first step is to get everything into a useful folder. Yes, everything. We promise, this will help even the most email-obsessed person to stop viewing their email as a historical, time-based list, but as more of a “what should I be focused on next?” list.
We’ll walk you through the folders that we have found to be the most useful—but feel free to mix it up based off of your needs.
There is a method to our madness, here. Feel free to copy and paste our folder names—The exclamation points and periods placed at the front of each label heading is there to ensure that the labels are in the proper order. We also assign a color to each filter, just so everything is easy to see at a glance.
→ ACTION: Create !TODAY! Folder ←
Your first folder will be the !TODAY! Folder. This might be redundant—but this is where you will filter in all emails that are urgent and need to be dealt with immediately, and for things that need to be wrapped up by the end of the business day. To make it easy to separate the two, we sort them into sub-labels that are nested under the Primary folder.
→ ACTION: Create sub-label “Urgent” and “EOD” under the !TODAY! Folder ←
Next—let’s get all of those emails to grab coffee with Sting or to reschedule your 1-1 with Bono. Since you’ll need to respond to each of these sometime between now and later, we’ll sort them as such under a folder that holds everything that you need to reply to.
→ ACTION: Create .Reply Folder ←
→ ACTION: Create sub-label “Now”, “Soon” & “Later” under the .Reply Folder ←
Ok, so let’s fast forward a little bit, and we’ll say that you sent an email over to Sting suggesting that the two of you grab coffee at The Mill on Divisadero. Rather than archiving this email after you respond or letting it languish in one of your folders, collecting dust and distracting you from everything else that needs to get done—simply reassign to a folder that clearly shows the status of the email. No need to make any sub-labels, unless you wanna. All emails here are all in the same state of limbo.
→ ACTION: Create .Pending Other Person Folder ←
No need to make any sub-labels, unless you wanna. All emails here are all in the same state of limbo.
Lastly, there will always be things that you need to review. They might not be urgent, but your eyeballs need to meet the black and white on the screen at some point in time. This could be anything like articles, subscription services, or emails that require no action—you just need to read them. Similarly to the “Reply” folder— These all have varying timeframes. If something needs to be reviewed by the end of that day, you or your VA can move things from this folder up to the “Today” folder.
→ ACTION: Create .Review Folder ←
→ ACTION: Create sub-label “Now”, “Soon” & “Later” under the .Review Folder ←
We utilize these specific filters so the only thing that our busiest clients need to spend their time looking at is neatly tucked away in the “Today” or “Review” folders. They are free to ignore everything else, because their VA is channeling their inner Olivia Pope and handling it.
As we mentioned earlier–Your milage may vary with each of these folders. Maybe you don’t need the “Reply” folder because you don’t want to ever respond to anyone ever. (Ooo! Mysterious!) Or, maybe you need to add one or two more folders to catch everything and anything else that is in your inbox.
For example, If you ARE working with a VA, create a folder for the emails you’ve sent to them. Or, keep the emails sent to you with the completed or in progress tasks they’re working on.
→ BONUS ACTION: Create VA Tasks Folder ←
Using our system and sorting email into several specific folders—even without a VA—will reframe how you approach your inbox, help you accomplish the critical things of the day and most importantly: Save you time.
Stop looking at your inbox as a chronicle of who emailed you first or last, but implement organizational folders to enable you to focus on what needs to be done next.
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.