Ari Meisel is a serial entrepreneur, triathlete, author and inventor. As co-founder of Less Doing, one his areas of focus is making all life and business tasks more efficient.
When someone asks me what I do for a living I typically say I’m a real estate developer. While thats true it’s one of several things I like to keep myself busy with. I’m a green building consultant, a serial entrepreneur on my 7th company, a triathlete, wellness expert, inventor, and author. All that really means is I get lots and lots of email everyday and they usually cover a broad range of topics. One of my companies is called Less Doing, which I co-founded with Jameson Detweiller. We believe that there is a better way to do everything. We try to attack every problem with tactics falling under three categories. Optimize, Automate, Outsource. The entire point of everything we do is to free up time and more importantly brain power so you can do other more enjoyable things with your resources.
The very first thing I do is set limits. There has to be some sort of benchmark as to whether or not your productivity system is working. I get about 400 emails each day but my limit is no more than 10 emails in the inbox at any given time. If I find that I’m consistently over that limit, either my system isn’t working or I need to be more efficient at dealing with the emails I do have in the inbox. The limit can really be anything, but it should be something realistic.
So the two issues are getting more efficient or fixing the system. The first problem is a very simple fix. The Email Game teaches you to decide what to do with an email quickly (delete, reply, forward, file) and respond quickly. You get points depending on how well you do and they claim you’ll get 30% faster at email. If you want to take it a step further and improve your reading speed, check out Readfa.st, you won’t be disappointed.
The productivity system involves more steps. The first step to optimizing your email problem is having less of it. That’s where Unsubscribe.com comes in. It’s a Gmail plugin but you can also simply forward emails to the service which makes it nice if you’re typically mobile. They will get you unsubscribed from whatever mailing list you might be on and they will follow up to make sure it gets done. If they don’t get you off a list, they have a simple procedure for you to file a complaint and take it a step further. Another important step in reducing incoming email is to train the people you communicate with. You do this with your email signature and auto responders. Think of yourself as some really great tech service used by thousands of people. There will undoubtedly be questions that come up frequently, or FAQs. Your email signature should include links to your social network profiles, your blog, your fax number, and any other information people ask of you. Wisestamp does a really nice job of adding this info to your signature in a clean and streamlined way. If people tend to contact you about setting up appointments or meetings, you need Tungle.me which lets people do just that with almost no involvement on your part. Auto responders should take the same form as you try to anticipate someone’s needs without them needing to ask.
The signal most useful tool I use about a dozen times each day is Followup.cc which allows you to cc a time period like email@example.com. When that time comes, if the person hasn’t responded, Followup will resend them email to them and send you a reminder. This is indispensable for following up with potential clients, customer service representatives, and anyone else.
To actually organize, I like OtherInbox which automatically creates folders like Shopping or Travel and sorts your emails into those folders based on smart filtering. As an added benefit, it will grab package tracking info from emails and put the delivery date in your calendar. It’s important to get non-essential emails out of your inbox so you know that if it’s a busy day, you can ignore those and you won’t miss anything important.
When I need a person to deal with my emails, I forwarded them to my team of virtual assistants at FancyHands. A quick forward with some brief instructions and it’s off my mind while someone else deals with it.
The last two tools I would mention are CannedResponses and Rapportive. CannedResponses creates template emails which you can use for composing new mail or setting up automatic responses to specific keywords. This is great if you get requests about products for instance and you can have an automatic response sent with pertinent information. Finally, Rapportive looks at who sent you an email and shows your their photo, social networking profiles, and recent status updates which can help you tailor a much more effective email to that person.
Email management is a game that you can always get better at but at the very least, you should be able to spend a lot less time dealing with your inbox.
For Inbox Heroes, Betabeat is curious about your war stories, productivity tips and moments of extraordinary email. Send us an email to tips et betabeat daught com with “war on email” in the subject line and a paragraph or two (or more!) about how you deal with your influx of electronic letters.