Email is the bane of my existence. I dread my inbox like most people fear the dentist, or public speaking.
It wasn’t always this way. I remember back in the day when I used to love checking my email. But nowadays, I just get way too much. It’s no fun anymore. Instead of a nice email from my mom just to say hi, and a dinner party invite from a friend, I get hundreds of requests, proposals, questions, and decisions that need to be made.
This is a common problem for bloggers and people who run their business online. At some point you have got to find a way to outsource it.
Many thanks to Tim Ferris. I would have never dreamed I could outsource my email. After reading his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, I have outsourced the majority of my email.
Just by doing one thing Tim suggested – only checking email twice a day (at noon and 4 pm) – I was able to increase my productivity exponentially. In fact, I had been planning to start this blog for a whole YEAR. After making the move to only checking email twice a day, I was able to get this blog up and running in just 2 days.
Tim’s right, email is a huge time suck and it keeps you from getting important things done.
By next week, with a new VA on board, I will have outsourced it completely.
In this post, I’m going to tell you how I outsourced my email – in just 5 easy steps.
How to Outsource Your Email in 5 Easy Steps
Step 1: Gmail Apps
If you have an email address hosted on your domain, such as email@example.com, you can forward all the email to Gmail apps. I highly recommend this. Step number one is to get your email OFF your hard drive. Period. This is the easiest way to port your email off your hard drive and into the cloud.
Here’s the thing. As long as your email is on your hard drive, it’s your problem. You have to file it, delete it, manage it.
Gmail is great because you can simply ‘archive’ all your mail with a click of a button. Archiving means you don’t have to decide whether or not to file it or toss it. Just archive it and you’re done. If you ever want to get it back again, you can with a simple search.
When you automate with Google mail, you no longer have to file, or even delete for that matter – you can just search for it just like you’d search for anything online.
And the truth is, why do we need to save every email anyway? We don’t save voicemails. Why do we feel the need to save emails?
I can only think of one reason. If you have clients and you want to make sure that you have a paper trail of what was said, what was agreed to, and so forth.
For client emails, I use a CRM management tool – Tactile. Anytime I or anyone on my client services team sends or receives an email to or from any of our clients, we bcc Tactile and it is saved in their system.
The only other emails I save and file in Gmail are emails that pertain to an ongoing project – something I’m actively working on. Everything else gets deleted or archived. You can still search everything that’s archived – so you haven’t really lost it.
And you don’t actually even have to file it by creating a folder and physically moving the email – just just label the email and it automatically gets tagged and filed.
Just go to Google Apps and sign up for a free account. (There is a business account, too, for only $50/year – but unless your business is pretty large you can probably start out with the free version like I did.)
There is some yucky stuff you have to do in your control panel (changing ANAME servers and such) – just call your hosting company and they will walk you through it.
Step 2: Gmail Priority Inbox
Once you switch over to Google Apps, start using the Priority Inbox. This this is the most awesome invention in email software. It’s right up there with Visual Voicemail on the iPhone.
The Gmail Priority Inbox is the best thing that ever happened to me. I would NEVER go back to Apple Mail on my hard drive.
Basically what it does is, it starts to learn which emails you think are important (you can also click a button to indicate that they are important to you). The important emails rise to the top of the inbox, and everything else gets shunted down to the bottom.
Just watch this video to see how cool it is:
Step 3: Create Multiple Email Addresses for Your Domain in Gmail Apps
OK so now you’ve got your Google Apps set up with your Priority Inbox all good to go. You can forward any other email accounts (I have a few other Gmail accounts) to your main email address if you like.
You can also set up email addresses for contractors and VAs (virtual assistants) who work for you, VA@mycompany.com and so on.
You can also set up email accounts for specific functions, i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Lastly, set up a private email account just for your friends and family. Do not give this email address out to anyone except for a select few in your inner circle.
Step 4: Hire a Virtual Assistant to Handle Your Email
Find someone who will work for $5-15 per hour, either a college student or stay-at-home mom who are looking for part time job here in the states, or you can find a VA in another country. The Philippines & Indians are recommended, as they speak perfect English.
Once you have a VA, instruct them to check your email for you once or twice a day (your preference). Give them a list of rules and/or an FAQ for how to handle various emails.
For example, in my inbox, all questions from readers on my blog should be labeled Blog Questions. My assistant can reply back to these readers with a standard reply that I will answer in my monthly Q&A post on the blog. If they want a more immediate reply, tell them to ask on my Facebook page.
Your assistant can check and respond to as many email accounts as is necessary. You can have a different FAQ for each account – so they know how to handle various kinds of emails. Post the FAQs post on Google Docs or you can use DropBox or MobileMe to share files.
You can also have your assistant respond to emails and set up meetings or calls for you. Give them access to your Google calendar and give them a window of time each week that you are available for meetings.
It is also critical to empower the people who work for you to solve problems themselves. That way they will refrain from emailing you to ask questions. Tim Ferris says that he started buy telling his assistants that if it is a problem that can be solved for under $100, they should solve it themselves.
Finally, schedule a daily 5-10 minute call with your VA in which they will report any emails to you that you personally need to respond to or action items you need to deal with. Or, if you prefer, have them send these action items to you in a voice mail or text message.
Step 5: Answer Your Email and Return Phone Calls in Batches
As Tim Ferris says in his book, The 4-Hour Workweek ‘Never check email first thing in the morning.’
If you do need to go in and respond to emails, do it at a specified time, either once or twice per day. Or, better yet, once or twice per week. Then shut down your email and let your assistant handle it.
Similarly, have your assistant ‘batch’ your phone calls and meetings around the same time. This will keep you focused and won’t eat up a whole day. Limit your meetings and phone calls to 30 minutes or less if possible, and make sure you have an agenda in writing.