Your Inbox Needs a Timeout!

Whidbey Island is a beautiful place to live, and I can’t image a better location for my studio. The sunrises are typically inspiring and the sunsets are nothing short of visually spectacular.

Whidbey Sunset
Whidbey Island Sunset

Between those two times of day (and sometimes outside of those times) I’m reading mail, marketing my services, practicing, auditioning and working on projects. The day is full, and seems to zip by in a blink.

I find that following a schedule is a necessity to keep me on track so I cover all the elements of running my own business. My schedule is the perfect guide, yet flexible enough to allow me extra time when I need to focus on specific areas. My success and business growth depend on me paying attention to more than just what I do behind my mic.

In the upcoming months, I’ll write about each area mentioned above from the perspective of a voice artist. The information can be used by most freelancers, “solopreneurs” and collaborators. 

This month’s post focuses on e-mail and some best practices for dealing with it.

Make your inbox work for you.

mail box with lettersMy day starts with a trip to my mail application’s inbox. From the last time I checked it the day before, until the moment I peek inside its bottomless depths again, I’ll have received between 75 to 100 pieces of e-mail.

Triage
I spend less than an hour “in the box” first thing every morning. I’ve set up my mail application to take care of sorting and filtering so I won’t have to. I want to open my e-mail and quickly work through chunks of messages at a time.

Most e-mail software allows you to configure inbox folders or rules with criteria to match incoming mail. Items which match folder criteria or rules are moved to that folder automatically.

Want to look at all of your social media alerts? Create a Social Media folder. Subscribe to professional services or lead alerts? Create a Prospects folder. Get the idea?

I use Mac Mail and have set up several Smart Folders that capture mail items which meet my specific criteria. I also have folders for each of my clients. This sorting method lets the computer work in the background to do the first step of my process.

Not all e-mail I receive requires my immediate attention. It ranges from pings from peers, quote and proposal requests from clients and prospects, new work from existing clients, social media alerts, newsletters and online magazines and junk.

With the help of my e-mail app, I run each of them through a triage process that helps me focus on what’s important to my studio’s financial progress first, informational second, and fun third.

Important to Survival
Mail that comes from my clients is the first thing I deal with. They are either contacting me with more work, following up about a project I recently finished or introducing me to somebody they’re referring. These are marked with the Respond flag for immediate attention.

After I make it through all my e-mail, these will be the items I act on first.

I don’t open inbox items in the order received, nor do I deal with them in real time. I work through my Smart Folders first, flagging when necessary.

Mac Mail gives me the ability to flag items into categories that I created.

  • Respond – Items that need a reply and can be responded to without additional work.
  • Action – These require me to do something before I respond or things that I need to do that don’t require a direct response to the sender.
  • Work – Confirmed jobs waiting to be completed.
  • Auditions | Proposals – My pool for potential new gigs.
  • Add to Contacts – New prospects that I will add to my address book.
  • Read | Listen – Interesting news letters or social media posts. Look for subject lines that grab your attention. Whatever you do, don’t open these items until you’ve made it through the others. They will derail your e-mail process.
  • Keep – Items that I’ll refer to often and NEVER delete!

Each flag category gets its own folder where items of a particular flag are waiting for further action.

Next, I give the flagged items my full attention. The e-mails flagged with Respond, are first. Usually, these are handled with a one or two line reply.

Items marked with the Action flag are dealt with next. These items require me to do something else before I respond. Research…writing a document…locating audio from a prior job…are typical tasks.

Items with the Work flag set the schedule for the day or book blocks of studio time for later in the week. These have scripts attached or voice direction from the person who hired me.

When I’m not in a session or editing, I’m in the Auditions | Proposals folder working through those items. This is my pool of potential future work.

Items flagged as Add to Contacts and Read | Listen are self-explanatory and compared to the other flags, low priority.

It’s a Date
You’ll come across items that are date dependent. Take a moment now to add these items to your calendar.

While you’re in your schedule, take a look at what you’ve got scheduled for the day and the next seven days. It’s good to be aware of events that need special attention and preparation. Nobody likes a bad surprise.

Your Inbox Needs a Timeout
Your e-mail application works hard to make your inbox triage easier. Sometimes however, it gets in the way of your productivity.

If you are the type of person who needs to have e-mail opened all day, consider setting the duration your application rechecks for new mail to occur no more than once an hour.

However, a better option is shut it down completely and limit inbox checks to three times a day: morning, after lunch, and one of the last things you do when you’re winding up your work day.

The busier you are with your career, the more important it is to tame your e-mail demons. Don’t be afraid to give your inbox a timeout!

Other posts you might find interesting:

Your Next Client Could be a Return Call Away
Are You Available?
Five Tips for Better Client/Talent Workflow

6 thoughts on “Your Inbox Needs a Timeout!

  1. John Florian February 4, 2014 / 4:21 am

    Hi Chris,

    Amazing timing: This morning your “Bonehead Mistakes” article appears on VoiceOverXtra …. http://bit.ly/BoneheadMistakes

    … and we receive another brilliant article from you on Inbox Survival. May I reprint the new one as well? I admire your organization – and sunrise.

    Yours, John

    Like

    • J. Christopher Dunn February 4, 2014 / 10:40 am

      Hey John- I’d be happy to have my post show up on VoiceOverXtra. Sounds good to me!

      Yeah, the sunset is quite spectacular as well as the view from out home. Fortunately for me, my studio is in a windowless area, otherwise I’d never get anything done. 🙂

      Like

  2. Gene Tognacci February 4, 2014 / 6:59 am

    Great article. And the specificity is extremely helpful.
    Thanks for sharing this.

    Like

    • J. Christopher Dunn February 4, 2014 / 10:44 am

      Hello Gene- Happy to help out anyway I can. Time not spent “in the box” is time that can be used elsewhere. It’s easy to get sucked in and sometimes difficult to get back out.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  3. sylvie Grimm February 10, 2014 / 6:43 am

    HI Chris,

    Thanks for sharing this info. Very clear and helpful. Just a question: is there an equivalent to “Mac Mail” for PC users?
    I envy your view… Whidbey Island looks like a beautiful place.
    Cheers!

    Like

    • J. Christopher Dunn February 10, 2014 / 11:40 am

      Hi Sylvie,

      Yes, the view on Whidbey Island is beautiful. Good thing my window access to the outside world is limited in my studio, otherwise I wouldn’t get anything done.

      On the PC, Outlook comes to mind. In a pervious life, I was a test engineer in development for Microsoft and worked on several iterations of both Outlook for Mac and Outlook for PC. Outlook is what I’m most familiar with on the PC platform. You can set up rules to move items into specific folders when they’re processed by your inbox. Flagging items for follow up is also available. A Google search will retrieve some great articles and reviews that might help you make a decision.

      Like

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