About a year ago I made a conscious decision to improve my response time. My inbox was filling up with anywhere from 12 to 20 e-mails per hour and my voicemail was filling up regularly, as I don’t answer the phone while in meetings out of consideration to my fellow participants. (Speaking of meetings, they were taking up so much time that rather than accomplishing things they just created more “to do” items for my “pending items” list.) It got to the point where it was taking me far too long to reply to anyone and getting through to me directly was too much of a hassle.
This led to frustration on the part of team members and potential clients; that frustration translated into lost productivity and lost sales. I decided to do something about it and began a process of filtering and organizing how information reached me. What I discovered is that I was spending a great deal of time on tasks that added no value to me personally or to my business.
Here is what I did to improve my response time.
I modified my Gmail filters
Several years ago, I setup an elaborate filtering system consisting of nearly 500 filters to ensure that information routed correctly. Looking back on that two-day-long effort makes me want to laugh. What I found was that no matter how carefully I tried to filter e-mails that didn’t need my personal attention, a slight modification to a subject line or on the “from e-mail address” by the sender would blow my filters out of the water.
I decided to delete them all and proceed to create catch-all filters with the stream of e-mails in my inbox. To do this, I highlighted up to 20 e-mails that I no longer wanted to see in my inbox and would click on “filter messages like these,” letting Google figure out what needed to be done. Since these catch-all filters can handle as many as 20 variables (perhaps more but I stopped at 20) it quickly cleaned out my inbox. I don’t really care if these filters are perfect since all I’m doing is archiving the e-mails via the filters, not putting them into a particular label. If I need to find something, I use the search function. The result is that I seldom receive more than 30 e-mails in my inbox per day and these are relevant e-mails that I want to read.
I switched my voicemail to Google Voice
One benefit of having an Android-based phone is that it provides native support for Google Voice which offers a great feature–it presents voicemails as e-mails in your inbox. Following these instructions, I bypassed my existing voicemail and instead forwarded all unanswered calls to my Google Voice account. This completely eliminated the need to check voicemail separately; instead it appears as part of my email inbox and can be processed with e-mail. This reduced voicemail response time and allowed me to respond appropriately regardless of whether the initial communication was e-mail or voicemail based.
I created “canned responses”
One of my favorite features that Gmail launched is “canned responses” which allow you to create template responses and use them in e-mails. I use canned responses for standard e-mails that go out to potential clients, staff and others; I also have standard introductions and conclusions that complement custom text. These canned responses save so much time! I currently have around 15 canned responses with more on the way.
Did this stuff actually improve my response time?
The results of the efforts have proven effective. I only have to address around 30 e-mails per day. I’m able to return important calls almost immediately and other calls within 24 hours. Is this system perfect? Absolutely not. Some pending items still fall through the cracks, but it’s a system that works and for now it’s what I’m going to keep doing until something better comes along.
What are you doing to improve your response time?