I’d done it again: a booking agent I’d been courting for months had emailed me. Only problem? It had sat unread for two weeks in my overgrown email inbox, smashed between ads for Viagra and the semi-weekly Dunkin Donuts newsletter. I’d missed out on a huge opportunity because. . . I couldn’t manage my email. Lame.
If you’re a musician struggling with email overload, it’s absolutely essential that you don’t be the 18 year old irresponsible me in the above story. Here are 5 ways I cleaned up, and have been able to keep my inbox down to a handful of important messages every week:
1. Delete ruthlessly.
Get rid of every single non-essential mailing list, newsletter, and every piece of unsolicited mail you get. Don’t just delete them- actually click the unsubscribe link. If you have friends that have mailing lists that you’re on, explain to them that you still want to stay connected but will be visiting their websites instead of receiving their email newsletter. If people don’t take you off their lists (by the way, they’re required to by US law), just mark them as spam.
2. Use an RSS feeder for news.
I subscribe to over 30 blogs using Feedly, a free RSS reader. I usually open it a couple of times a week and read through all the new posts, and so far I haven’t missed a single thing that I would have seen in a mailing list (at least that I’m aware of). Again, tell the companies and friends that send you email that you’ll be reading their blogs every week to encourage them to keep posting.
3. Set up mail rules for coupons.
There are some companies that send me coupons every month that I find valuable. I have my iCloud email set to automatically send those email directly to a special folder marked “Coupons”.
4. End nonessential email using the “closer” approach.
Whether we know it or not, we constantly invite people to email us back long, unimportant email. Here are two examples of a response to an email, one inviting an irrelevant response, one inviting action:
Example 1 (the bad version):
Do you have any cool free patches that I could get from you? I’ve been thinking about hiring you to train me on MainStage since I’ve been having some problems lately with the program.
Hope the weather has been nice in Nashville!
Absolutely! I’d love to get you some free patches- what sounds do you like? That’s so exciting that you’re wanting to do training on Mainstage! What are the problems you’re running into? What kind of music do you play?
The weather’s been really good here. What part of the country are you in? Is it nice there?
Hopefully you’re having a good week!
What I did wrong: I asked a total of 6 questions that he’s going to have to answer to respond, taking up his time and creating a potentially lengthy email. I also didn’t lead- I didn’t suggest that he order the MainStage training or give him the link to the online store. I didn’t tell him to fill out the form about what problems he’s having when he orders, or just send him the patches he asked for.
Example 2 (The better version):
Thanks for writing! Here’s a link to some free patches: www.example.com/download.
I’m sure I could help you with your MainStage problems- here’s a link to my online store where you can order a training session, and tell me all about what you need help with in Mainstage: http://ericwbarfield.com/store/online-1-on-1-training
Looking forward to working with you!
What I did right: there’s not a single question here, meaning that Joe does not have to respond via email. I pointed him to both a free download, and my online store and encouraged him to take action (“I’m looking forward to working with you!”) while still being polite. I also used less words than in the first email, meaning that I spent less time typing and Joe is more likely to read my entire email.
5. Check daily.
Like a good fitness routine, keeping your email hygiene up daily will keep it from being an overwhelming task. I like to open my email at least once day on my iPhone, and delete all the mail that isn’t relevant. I then click on the email that I think is important and do a quick scan to see if it’s urgent. If it is, I jot back a quick reply using voice dictation. If it’s not, I’ll wait until one of 1-3 times a week that I answer email.