When you speak to event professionals about why they entered the industry, it’s clear that most are driven by the creative aspect and the ability to produce a client’s dream event. Simply put, we like people and products. What you won’t hear is someone saying that they went into the industry because they wanted to spend time in their inbox.
For most, emails are a necessary tool for communicating with clients, vendor partners, and other people--but by no means are we collectively doing anything beyond sending and receiving emails. Email ends up taking a backseat because people don’t want to focus on it, but it still ends up taking more time than necessary.
Unfortunately, this means that we’re behind the curve when it comes to using computers in today’s modern world. While you can sign up for a workshop or master class about anything from producing one-of-a-kind color palettes to the minutiae of stationery design, there’s less education in the way of effective communication.
Many creatives get into the space for just that—the creativity. Yet, they find themselves buried in emails from clients, feeling overwhelmed, and watching their inboxes fill up. Then, it becomes more of an inbox triage than a proactive strategy for staying on top of incoming messages.
With smart and intentional email management, you’ll find that you have more time in your day to pursue the parts of business that you’re most passionate. It also affords you a better client experience through quicker and more effective communications. Here are a few strategies to get your inbox back into shape and keep it operating at peak efficiency going forward.
- Implement a folder structure.
The idea of using a folder structure is to leave your inbox as clean as possible. Everything in your inbox should be a real-time action item; the rest should be filed away. Start by organizing your inbox with large folders, which can later be broken down into subfolders. I work well chronologically, so I start with yearly folders on the top level and, within each, I have subfolders for each client as well as admin tasks (i.e., taxes, payroll, etc.).
However, even the best folder structure is worthless if you don’t use it. You need to commit to filing each and every email away. Sure, email clients have great search functions, which may leave you thinking you can get away with a cluttered inbox. However, this is a quick way to lose track of emails that haven’t been responded to--a search bar won’t tell you that. Consider your inbox as a to-do list--everything that is already done no longer has a place and should be filed in the correct folder.
- Set office hours.
It’s essential that you’re setting “office hours” for the time you’ll be tackling emails. It works differently for everyone, but should be something that fits into your schedule and for the most part can be consistent. It could be first thing in the morning or perhaps the hours surrounding lunchtime. If you get a lot of personal emails (which is totally fine!), you may need to break out a larger chunk of time to address them or have them filtered into a folder where you can address them later. Having your office hours dedicated solely to work will remove distractions and increase productivity.
Personally, I do keep my email up on my computer at all times, but I only actively manage it for a few hours each day. I check in the morning to weed out the junk, then dedicate two hours midday. I’ll also do a final sweep of my inbox before the day ends so I have a head start on the next morning. Setting time aside for this allows you to remain mindful of your current task at hand, avoiding the constant distraction of bouncing between projects and emails.
- Work your way through new emails.
When you first pull up your inbox, start by immediately deleting all of the junk emails--ads, sales and so forth. This will clear the clutter and leave only the important emails left for you to address. The rule of thumb at this point is that you should reply immediately if it’s something you can answer within a few minutes, then file it in the corresponding folder. If it takes more than a few minutes, respond to let the sender know you’re working on it and then leave it in your inbox to follow up later.
- Map out your game plan.
Once you have all of your important emails left in your inbox, consider how long it will take for each of them to be completed and filed. Then, switch over to your calendar and actually allot the time to tackle each email. This will also help to let people know when they can expect a response, because you’ll know exactly when you’ll finish a project. While you’re at it, consider setting a monthly or quarterly space on the calendar to take the time to unsubscribe to emails you no longer want to receive. These take up time and become a distraction, and you always want to be mindful of unnecessary inbox clutter.
If you use Gmail, the “Tasks” feature offers an alternative to calendar slots for those who prefer a more flexible schedule. When you receive an email that will take more than a few minutes, simply toggle over to the “Tasks” on the right side (it will be a blue circle with a pen and yellow dot). Click the “+” button to add a new task, as well as the estimated time and anything you’ll need to complete it. Then, you can still block out project time in your schedule to address your Task list without needing to get too detailed on your calendar.
- Stick to your response time.
If you say you’ll get back to someone by a certain time, you must do so--even if it’s just to tell them you need more time to get a better answer. Twenty-four hours on weekdays and 48 hours on weekends is the industry standard, but nowadays, clients are used to (and expect) instant communication. You need to be clear about this to set expectations early. Clients might assume we work on weekends because we run events, but that doesn’t mean we’re on our emails!
- Use canned responses wisely.
Canned responses sometimes get a bad rep for stripping communications of authenticity, but they can actually be very useful for certain situations. It’s true, people do know when they get a canned email. If you want to set the right tone, you need to at least personalize it a bit to show that you care. Using templates and later customizing them for each inquiry ensures your genuineness shine, without having to reinvent the wheel every time.
Believe it or not, clients in today’s world do expect a few automated emails. One, in particular, is an invoice reminder. People are juggling a lot these days, so it’s not realistic to expect them to remember payments are due. By utilizing an online platform to automate your contracts and invoices (mine is Rock Paper Coin), you will no longer have to track down these payments.
Although emails may be the part of business we care about least, it does play an instrumental part in the success and growth of a company. A solid email management routine will enhance the client experience, while also forming the foundation for an efficient and streamlined workflow for you on the internal end.
Elizabeth Sheils is the co-founder of Rock Paper Coin, a software platform that brings together wedding planners, couples and vendors into one system for managing and paying contracts and invoices. She is also a lead wedding planner with award-winning firm Bridal Bliss, where she manages the Seattle team.