10 Productivity Tips for Managing Your Email and Your Day

A tidy Email Inbox may feel great, but it doesn’t earn you a commission check.  Know this: addressing the common obsession with a clean Inbox is one of the best ways to put more time, productivity and profit into your business.  Here’s why:

Email is simultaneously one of the most helpful and potentially debilitating business tools ever created. The ability to have a wide variety of vital conversations through one platform — and the ability to engage those conversations anytime, anywhere — is indispensable. However, people’s devotion to their Email Inbox is where problems often arise.

In the modern-day business world — filled with obvious Internet-based distractions such as YouTube, 24/7 news and sports coverage, online shopping and more — the Email Inbox is the underrated King of Distractions. It’s a silent assassin of workday balance and productivity.

Working to manage and organize your Inbox is important, but it should rarely be prioritized as your most essential task of the day. With that in mind, here are 10 tips for managing email that can help unchain you from your Inbox:

Don’t Finish Your Entire ‘To Do’ List

Have you ever checked every single box on your “To Do” list in a single day? In our business, an industry where Realtor and Loan Originator’s daily docket piles up really fast, Top Producers NEVER go home with everything on their To-Do list completed.

Don’t be afraid to push the “Clean my Inbox” line item from your “To Do” list to a later date. First, concentrate on the most important tasks on your list— 95% of the time, your most important tasks are those that that build relationships with referral partners. Relationships that provide a steady flow of referrals is essential to any producer’s long-term success. Referrals generate income. A clean inbox pays you nothing.

Create Folders and Subfolders That Help You Thrive

Every person has a different way of viewing, processing, understanding and interacting with email folder architecture. Finding a folder system that accommodates your unique way of thinking can unlock new efficiencies in how you traverse your Inbox.

“Different approaches work for different people,” said Isabel Taylor, senior project manager for Duke University’s Office of Information Technology. “This works for me. I have three top-level folders: messages I’m waiting to hear back about from someone, items to take action on, and messages I need for my project archive or record-keeping.”

For you, perhaps beneficial folders would include “Pending Agreements,” “Loan Applications” and “Potential Customers.” Whatever makes sense to you is the best foot forward — keeping in mind that too many folders and subfolders is counterproductive. Folders were made to improve, not hinder, your email management experience.

Keep Your CCs to a Minimum

A sure-fire way to trim the fat in your Inbox is to reduce the amount of times you are carbon-copied (CC) on emails. People often mean well when they include you in email chains, thinking that you’ll appreciate the background info even if you’re not directly involved in the project being discussed.

If you have assistants or colleagues in your RE Agency or Lending Office, make sure they understand that you only need to be included in email conversations when your involvement is absolutely necessary.

Not Every Message Should Be Responded to Immediately

You hear that “ding”; a new email has arrived. You drop everything to respond, then seconds later another message pops up. More reading, then your reply. Before you know it, an entire hour’s worth of important work has been lost to unexpected email upkeep.

Did all of these new messages require immediate attention? Probably not. This may seem counter-intuitive, but know this: Top Producers don’t respond to each email 1-minute after it was received.  How could they when they are busy working on new Loan Applications, or out on Listing Appointments?  And remember, your customers and referral partners want to work with the BEST.  And the BEST can’t reply to emails instantaneously.  Bottom-line: retrain your customers and referral partners regarding expectations of communication to realistic levels. Don’t allow your emails or voicemails to rule your schedule, and proactively manage your day like a Top Producer.

Close Outlook

When you’re immersed in your CRM, Zillow, Quadrant2 or whatever other industry tools you leverage, don’t enable temptation by leaving your Outlook or Gmail window open on the screen. Limiting distractions is a best practice for productivity, and email is the No. 1 modern-day distraction for RE Agents and LOs.

 Make it Easier to Track Follow-Ups

Have you ever forgotten whether you had followed up with a customer’s email question, then spent 20 minutes searching for a message that you THOUGHT existed? In the book “Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style,” Carson Tate writes about how the “waiting for” rule addresses this frustration:

“Here’s how it works: When you send an email where you need a response from the recipient, CC yourself on that email. That email will then be automatically saved in a folder you have designated for all of your follow-ups.”

The result? You’ll waste far less time trying to determine whether you’ve followed up on various email questions, requests and discussions.

Eliminate Noisy Alerts and Reminders

Speaking of distractions … those noisy Outlook alerts and reminders are the archenemies of creativity and productivity. It’s extremely difficult to cultivate a meaningful train of thought or the incessant “ding,” “swoosh” and “chirp” of digital alerting. The same goes for the visual que in Outlook that pops up every time a new email is received… do you really need 150 visual reminders that you received a new message? (no…)

Use Finer Features to Your Advantage

At times some of the finer features within Outlook can prove extremely effective for email management, including:

  • Email Filtering (for instance, search by messages that you “Flagged”)
  • “Junk Email Options” allows you to set specific rules for what types of incoming messages will and won’t be allowed into your email account
  • The “Clean Up” tool “analyses a complete email conversation and deletes any messages that have been quoted in their entirety inside a subsequent message — the logic being that you can still see what’s been said by checking subsequent messages.”

Accept Help When Feasible and Appropriate

You can’t hand ALL of your daily email-related tasks to your assistant. If you did, key nuances of important messages, questions and replies might get overlooked. Some tasks simply have to be completed in the first person.

That said, I know of many rock-star Loan Officer Assistants that can handle 90% of Realtor and Borrower emails for their LO’s. This type of assistance can provide for 10-15 hours of redeemed time each week, (imagine how much easier it would be to take that top-producing referral partner to lunch with an extra 15 hours in your work week).

Discover What Works For You

For some RE Agents and LOs, Inbox-related peace of mind comes when huge quantities of old emails are deleted and forgotten. For others, an extensive virtual maze of folders, subfolders and messages represents the height of  organization and comfort.

No matter how you choose to do it, managing your email and your day is an absolute must. With productivity at stake and no time to lose, think about what you can do to spend less time in your Inbox and more time building your business.