One of the greatest challenges to your efficiency when you run your own bookkeeping business is managing your email.
You can launch your day with a well-planned agenda and a focus on your tasks, but if you stop to check every time an email comes in, your productivity can rapidly decline. Much to our own chagrin, we do not multi-task well and we shouldn’t be doing it.
Here are 10 good strategies to wrestle your email into a manageable tool that works for you instead of adding work to your day.
Create standard (canned or template) responses
Set up standard form responses that you can quickly customize and just cut and paste them into your responses.
A client asks if you can meet with them. Try to set one day or morning aside each week solely for meetings. Tuesdays are good: you have started your tasks on Monday and if the meeting yields something urgent, you still have time to complete it by Friday.
So create standard response that says:
“I’d be happy to meet with you about this. Have you a few minutes available for me Tuesday (date) at (time)?
To ensure that we can move forward on this quickly, will you bring (document) to the meeting?
To ensure that we can move forward on this quickly, I will bring with me (document) to the meeting.
Other clients will want a response when they send an essential document or receipt that you need.
So create a standard response that says:
“I have received this. Thanks very much.”
Have another email that handles the process of onboarding a new client and sending them your contract. Be sure to clearly outline the services they can expect to receive from you.
Using “Canned Responses” – found under Settings > Labs – in Gmail is awesome for setting up these types of email responses that you need to use over and over again. Another method is to simply create multiple signatures within your email tool and use those as your standard or template response.
Set up a schedule for checking emails.
Be conscious that every time you check your emails, you will spend longer than you anticipated. And even if you just take one minute to send a quick response, your brain takes two minutes to get back to the task you are trying to complete.
We’ve asked bookkeepers about this and were surprised at how many busy people have established set times to check emails, and that is the only time they look. It is standard to check first thing in the a.m. (often before the start of the normal work day). Many bookkeepers told us they take a first run of the emails with their morning coffee at 6 or 7 a.m.
A pattern emerged of checking again at 10:30, and then at 2 p.m., with a final check around 4. The small business owners often do one more run-through around 8 p.m. just to make sure there is nothing urgent waiting for them in the a.m.
On weekends, they check once in the morning and once again in the late afternoon.
Remember that the faster you respond to emails, the more your clients will expect that you always respond fast and setting precedents are often not a good practice – but establishing client expectations is always good. Promise instead that you check your emails several times a day and will always respond within a few hours.
“I explain that I don’t check or respond to emails when I am meeting with a client, so I encourage them to leave the email (or a voice mail), knowing that I will check when I return to my desk. People generally understand that,” one of our members told us. (I would perhaps add that “reasonable people always understand that”.) ☺
One client said that he actually books in e-mail free zones to ensure his focused work can continue for blocks of time uninterrupted. He does not even look at his emails Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings before 1 p.m. He also does not check them on Saturday before 4 p.m.
Limit the number of emails you send on any one topic
If you have sent more than three emails about an issue you are trying to resolve for or with a client, pick up the phone and call them, or set up a meeting.
More than three emails about any topic moves into the area of foot-dragging. Clearly some essential information is not getting through, so it is best to see the client face to face or have a quick phone or Skype conversation to try to expedite the matter.
Watch your strings of emails. If the topics change, start a new thread so that you can keep track of how long discussions are ongoing.
Emails are great, but despite all the wonders of technology, sometimes an issue can only be solved with a face-to-face meeting so that you can pick up all the messages that are written.
Do not use email as a project planner
If you work in a bookkeeping business where you have multiple team members, it is tempting to send daily tasks to them via email.
But it is not the most efficient way for you to delegate work and check on its progress.
Instead use one of the many production tools and apps that everyone can check in on throughout the day to see their assigned tasks and keep track of the status of them.
I find both Trello and Teamwork work great for our own firm, but they are just two of many great tools. Trello (usable across all platforms) is a customizable and easy to use digital bulletin board that you can use to set up to do tasks, notes, lists and more. All of these things can be shared with other users as well, and they too can create new cards and add comments for working together on different projects.
Look for a specialized email manager app
If you are trying to run your bookkeeping business from an email system where everything comes in at once to one place, from special offer coupons to your newsletter bulletins to invitations to Saturday night events, no wonder you feel overwhelmed.
There are lots of apps on the market, many of them free, to help you manage the flow of your emails better.
Although, I have not used it myself I have heard good things about Edison Email, a free app for Android and iOS devices.
It supports Gmail, Outlook, Exchange, Office 365, and IMAP accounts.
Again this is only one of many great options – if you use Gmail spend a little time learning how to setup filters, rules and labels can make managing your email almost a pleasant experience. I did say almost. ☺
Turn off the darn alerts
And, I would be remiss if I ended this article without touching on one of my pet peeves. For goodness sake turn OFF your email notifications. They are distracting – they constantly interrupt your focus – they serve no good purpose AND no email is that important. So do yourself and your brain a favour and TURN OFF your alerts. (I would also include social media alerts and notifications in this mini-rant, but that is a topic for a completely separate blog post.) ☺
Thank you for paying attention. Now go and turn of those alerts. Your brain will be happy.
Until next time.
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