4 Communication Hacks to “Inbox Zero”

Being a CEO (or in any high pressure management role) is exhausting, non stop, and without a rule book. It’s really up to you to figure out what works for you, which can be an enormous amount of pressure since really — everything is up to you.

Here are four tips that I’ve discovered over my past five years in entrepreneurship that have helped me maintain some semblance of sanity, some attempt of control over my inbox, and at least the appearance of time management and pre planning. These four things tremendously helped me take back my life and get on top of my schedule without allowing the non-stop communication tasks of being an executive run me.

1.) Keep a dedicated digital work notebook — I kept dozens of physical notebooks [maybe this will work for you]but for me — on the go, constantly traveling, drinking [and spilling] coffee — I needed something digital and shared across my phone, laptop, and accessible on the cloud in case you are separated from either.

SMKC Offices — credit @smokecartel.com

I now use my apple notepad for everything. I have over 1,000 notes — jot lists from meetings, random thoughts, packing lists for specific locations (always bring moisturizer when going out west) and they are all searchable and shareable across all my devices. I can also share these with any team members who might need to edit notes from meetings — another pro tip : have your teammates also take notes during meetings and share them with you afterwards, so you can keep and compile multiple digital records of events for your history. Being searchable, you can use this like your digital brain for keeping track of everything over the months and years. The longer you keep this going [and the sooner you start], the more useful it becomes.

2.) Time set all your apps and set goals for each one — If you have an iPhone you can do this easily, there are probably dozens of apps for Android. Review your phone time weekly and track and compare it over time compared to your productivity and mental health.

The purpose of Instagram is not to scroll mindlessly. When you evaluate weekly, you’ll be able to notice trends and more effectively start scheduling your time to take control of it. You likely don’t even realize the amount of time you spend texting, on twitter, reading news articles, or playing that game you swore is just a few minutes to blow off steam.

When you are using your social media apps, be aware of its purpose. I schedule out writing time on medium — I’m likely not going to stop writing if I’m on a roll and I’ve exceeded my time, but if I get that notification on twitter? Absolutely.

I spend the majority of my professional social time on medium, LinkedIn, and instagram- and I set goals for the time that I spend on them. If I’m allowing 15 minutes a day to Instagram then I’m looking for this amount of weekly conversions to my blog and if I’m allowing 25 minutes to LinkedIn then I’m aiming to publish a research article a month, endorse a colleague, post a job listing — you get the picture. These sites have a job to do also, and that’s keeping you engaged and on them — which is why it’s a huge part of your job to remain focused and clear for why you are investing your time into these platforms.

3.) Maintain your inbox — Inbox zero is a thing and I have maintained it for five years even with dozens of incoming e-mails daily. I swear by Boomerang for Gmail. I didn’t know how much I needed this app until I installed it.

I was instantly drawn to the ability to preschedule my emails so that I wouldn’t look like the crazy person catching up on my inbox at 3am Sunday morning (even though I usually am — but I recommend picking one day of the week to sit and schedule out the bulk of your basic emails for the week.) Another great feature is the ability to set reminders and the automatic boomerang feature that brings back ignored or un-responded to emails back to your attention.. Assignment emails, checking in on project status emails, follow up emails — these all can and should be scheduled, and you can prepare a block of time in your life where you blast out this section of work so it doesn’t feel like you are constantly in e-mail hell.

4.) Create and maintain pre-written fragments — I have these stored for my purposes by category, which is as follows: “interview fragments”, “slack fragments,” and “e-mail fragments”. What fragments you create will depend largely on your preferred methods of communication and how frequently you repeat specific information.

Interview fragments are fairly self-explanatory, they contain all my standard hiring questions and basic questions / phrases for fleshing out deals and basic behaviors that are repeatable. I keep phrases of information about the company, answers to commonly asked questions about hiring procedures, work place environment, etc.

SMKC Offices — credit @smokecartel.com

My slack fragments are my most used and most proud — after a few years of working with slack as our primary communication tool for our company, I’ve been able to keep a log of my most frequently asked questions and phrases to cut down on the actual time I spend typing or responding to ‘busy work’. I keep my fragment notebook open and to the side of my screen when responding to inquiries and frequently add to it. If it’s some quality wordage, C/P and throw it in your digital notebook to use later.

I’ve also found slack fragments to be key in consistency of training, which is ever so important in all companies, but especially in fast growing ones where company culture is critical to team motivation and project execution. When we run digital training programs (which we do often in our company — we keep slack channels based around learning a topic (a new product, or a new project, or a skill set like sales or negotiations), I record and save my posts so that I can tell the same story or lessons for each new round of students, ensuring similar outcomes and a standard base education.

Now that Gmail has released their new auto fill , I’ve been using my email fragments less and less as the AI learns my communication habits. I know this is frightening to most people, and I’d like to be one of them, but the ease and time savings for me are currently too much to pass up.

It can seem impossible to keep on top of the never-ending stream of phone calls, e-mails, text messages, and chats, but with organization, storage and pre-planning, you can take control of your inbox and stop struggling to maintain the flood of incoming communication.

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