Email Management: From Surviving to Thriving

by Shon Keesling - Executive Assistant

8 Tips to Optimize Your Gmail Journey

At High Alpha, we dream big… even in email. We get a lot, we send a lot, and I dream about it — when will I get to inbox zero? Is my color coding right? Why are there so many? What did I miss? How do I catch-up?

I have been an executive assistant for 13+ years supporting Scott Dorsey, founder & former-CEO of ExactTarget (later acquired by Salesforce) and currently Managing Partner of High Alpha. I am now an EA at High Alpha, where I support two of our partners — Scott Dorsey & Mike Fitzgerald. I come from a long-standing background of email with ExactTarget. So… I love email until I don’t. I don’t love it when it gets lost, accidentally muted thanks to my ~99% effective Gmail shortcuts… pushed so far down the inbox that it will never recover, and so on. Can you relate?

The Radicati Group, a technology market research firm, looked at email exchanges within workplaces on a global scale. They estimate that the number of business and consumer emails we sent and received each day in 2017 to be around 269 billion… BILLION, with a b. That number will climb to about 320 BILLION by 2021.

Is Inbox 0 Even Possible?

So, what do you do? Select all and archive? Maybe. Or you find a system that makes your email work for you, instead of being a prisoner to it. You find a way to make your email your to-do list, instead of your black hole, become more responsive and have the weight lifted from your shoulders. Sounds like a dream!

Where do you start? Well, like with most things, you start at the beginning. My email management for both myself and my execs has evolved over the years. Whether you’re managing your own email or an executive’s (plus yours), everyone is different, so you need to find the shortcuts, tricks, and tool(s) that you like and easily fit in your workflow.

When I meet with new EA’s just getting started, I remind them to meet their executive where they are — Evernote, Google Docs, notes, etc. — the same is true for yourself. Do not, I repeat, do not just use a tool you don’t understand, that seems flashy and trendy because you think it will fix all your email problems. It likely won’t, and it may put you further behind than you already are. Instead, look for something that works within your regular workflow and integrates with the current tools you prefer.

I personally use a combo of MixMax, Evernote, and Gmail as my primary email and productivity management tools. I’ve tried other tools and email integrations — Todoist, Asana, Sortd, GoogleTasks, and more… I just found that Gmail + MixMax + Evernote is my combo that works best.

How To Manage Your Email Inbox with Gmail

As mentioned before, there are plenty of great tools and tips for managing an inbox. It might be an additional software add-on or Chrome extension to your current inbox or it might just be learning to utilize the settings and features within Gmail with these inbox tips and tricks. Over time, you’ll find out what works best for you. I’ve provided 8 quick tips to get you started on your email management journey:

  1. Set up a “Starred” inbox and create rules for your important contacts. Set up auto-starring for your frequent/important contacts (i.e.- your executive, your exec team, your boss, etc). This brings all those important emails to the top of your inbox at all times, allowing you to focus on what matters.
  2. Use a scheduling integration (like Calendly or MixMax) to allow for easy schedule and availability sharing (i.e.: templates for 30 min in-person meetings, 30-min phone call, etc.). This will cut down on those “back-and-forth” emails.
  3. Create rules to auto-archive unnecessary emails (Settings → Filters & Blocked Addresses → Create new Filter). For example, “accepts” from calendar appointments might be something you don’t need — auto-filter by subject has “accepted” in it, and “skip the inbox” to cut down on the clutter. PS — I still receive declines, so I don’t miss those!
  4. Set-up Rules/Auto-flagging for emails containing certain email addresses or keywords. For example, I set this up for every “event” I will manage, for example, when we had an upcoming offsite meeting I created a rule that would auto-label any email from that venue’s domain with the event label.
  5. Turn conversation mode off. I may be in the minority, but you’re just fooling yourself into thinking you have less email. Just deal with each one, one at a time.
  6. Use Gmail shortcuts for deleting, archiving, and replying to emails (Pro tip — make the “mute” shortcut something you NEVER touch so you avoid accidentally muting someone… not that I’ve ever done that…).
  7. Using preview mode on your email (I prefer horizontal split), shift your email into full-screen mode and split screen it with your “to do list”. This will cut down on application swapping, allowing for dedicated focused time.
  8. Labels and color coding are your best friends. I see everything in colors, I have one executive that every label and file associated with them is orange, another where everything is blue. When I see that color now, my mind automatically knows a little bit of context. Visually it helps you sort through your inbox of what is hot (all immediate items might be red, end-of-week items orange, and “nice to do” items yellow), and where you need to spend your time. You can change the colors of any label you create.

Email Never Stops

Hopefully, you’ll find some of these tips and tricks helpful on your Gmail journey. Email never stops, but when done right, it can be an incredibly helpful tool that enhances your day and gives you the framework of your to-do list, rather than bog you down and hold you back. If you’re an executive or an EA and you want to learn more, feel free to reach out to me at shon@highalpha.com. If you have any additional email tips, tricks, or software you enjoy, feel free to share in the comments below!

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