Depending on your individual personality, email is either the best invention of the digital age (thus far), or a time-wasting, soul-sucking menace, evidence of humanity’s tendency to take two steps forward and one step back.
Whatever description you may settle on, know this: email proficiency is incredibly important, especially when it comes to private equity and business development. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that email management is, next to networking and deal flow, probably the most important skill a BD professional has–at least in terms of first communication and softening up prospects.
Think of it this way: when it comes to following up with warm leads, particularly those prospects that you’ve already met in person, email is an excellent tool, allowing you to keep records of conversations, facts and other details exchanged, and even set reminders. But without the right mindset and goals, it’s impossible to master this valuable medium.
What is the point of email management?
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. Even the best email management techniques are useless if you don’t have an end in mind. Instead of picking and choosing from the thousands of email management listicles out there, try working backwards: determine your goal and then work backwards to achieve it.
To begin, your email goals are likely simple ones: boost efficiency, streamline your processes, and simply have email take up less of your life. You’ll probably want to spend less time on useless emails, to spend more time with specific leads, and spend less time sorting out your email inbox. Basically, you wish to have email work for you–and not the other way around.
Switch services if you can
Though it may be out of your control, one action that could work wonders would be to change email providers. Granted your company may already have an existing email interface (Outlook anyone?), but to be honest, not all email services were born equal. The best offer intuitive, all-encompassing interfaces that you can plug into your other apps, such as calendars, and are responsive (they can be used on smartphones and tablets in addition to computer browsers).
By far, the best email provider is Gmail. Granted, Gmail for Business (the company calls it G Suite) is no longer free; however, it is a fantastic choice. With G Suite, you can rely on all the standard features that you’ve grown accustomed to with Gmail: Calendar for keeping appointments and Drive for editing documents and spreadsheets on the cloud, to name a few. More importantly, such programs are integrated, and boast significant cross-functionality: it’s easy to set reminders and invite others to events, and to track deadlines, appointments, and important documents.
Yet G Suite isn’t the end-all of email providers. For those investors who travel frequently, especially to nations like China (where Gmail is banned) will need alternatives. As a result, Zoho is an excellent option: its broad suite of features allows users to synch emails on all devices, easy-to-use archives, templates, and integration with Zoho apps, and unlimited online storage. Still, in comparison to G Suite, Zoho is more limited: you cannot detect dates, and searching isn’t nearly as thorough as Google.
Learn to create filters and keywords
With any email provider, it’s key to set filters. This way, you not only automatically sort important documents and emails into the right folders, but you’ll also prevent overzealous spam filters from accidentally sifting out emails you actually need.
More importantly, setting up filters can prevent your inbox from being overloaded. Directing new emails to the appropriate folders (such as “New Prospects” or “Cold Leads”) allows you to avoid searching constantly for every email when you need it. After all, keep in mind that a full inbox has consequences that go far beyond frustration. One study found that email raises stress levels considerably–simply because people receive so many emails every day.
Check email periodically, and only then
Make a schedule–and stick to it. One reason for email-induced stress has to do with how we interact with email; specifically, rather than setting aside chunks of time to check email, we instead check frequently–more than is reasonable or healthy.
When it comes to this email-related multitasking, the danger isn’t just in wasting time; instead, it’s in wasting energy. Neuroscientists have found that people cannot actually multitask; instead, our brains simply switch quickly from one task to another, rapidly depleting glucose. As a result, when you compare someone who multitasks to someone who doesn’t, you’ll find that the person who focuses on a task longer will be more productive.
Towards that end, it helps to turn off notifications. In their place, set up reminders, either in the form of a timer (Pomodoro works great for this), or a more sophisticated, daily alarm that rings at various intervals (perhaps every weekday on the hour, from 9 in the morning to 5 in the evening). However you choose to do it, the goal remains the same: check your email, but only when you’re allowed to. Save your energy for everything else.
Build email catchup into your schedule
This is related to the previous point. Even paradigms of efficiency and innovation like Tony Hsieh of Zappos can fall behind on emails (and get stressed out as a result). Therefore, a helpful solution is to prioritize: set aside less urgent emails for the next day, and send the first hour or so of each day reading and answering emails remaining from yesterday.
Known as Yesterbox, this approach brings a systematic, straightforward approach–and more importantly, doesn’t demand that you do more (read and answer more emails) in less time. The trick, however, is to shuttle all emails which aren’t urgent to the next day. Moreover, when you do complete (read, reply, file, or delete) at least ten of your emails from the previous day, then (and only then) can you move onto the day’s emails. For any emails that require a lot of time to respond, you should schedule out on the calendar to do so.
In the end, none of these techniques and methods come naturally. But research shows that any behavior change, no matter how small, is very difficult. Try to pick one at a time, and stick with that. After all, you owe it to your loved ones and yourself to live a less stressed, more productive life.