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I’m rubbish when it comes to email management!

What works best for you?

Didn't find your answer?

I’m horrendous at getting distracted from whatever I’m doing by the envelope icon that appears on my desktop. 

I think that I’m going to only have Outlook ‘on’ 3 times a day, say 9-10, 1-2, 4.30-5.30. I guess that I’m scared certain clients won’t get responded to immediately, I know it’s my fault for setting that expectation though.  

For others that do something similar, does it help your efficiency? 

Do you have an OoO saying anything about it? Or do clients just get used to it / aren’t aware. 

Someone said it the other day (Marks? Maslin? sorry ...) about disabling emails on their mobile outside work hours, which I think that I’ll do ask well. Especially as I end up reading but not answering them due to the fact that VirtualCabinet won’t capture the email!

Its a brave new world ... any further advice / experience welcome ...

Replies (15)

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By marks
12th Aug 2018 21:45

First things first, turn off the pop up that shows when you receive an email. Whenever you are working on something and get distracted eg by the email popup, the phone ringing, or staff member coming into office to ask a question it can take 15-20 to get back up to speed with what you were doing. 5 - 10 interruptions per day and that is easily 1 to 3 hours wasted.

Second thing is only check your email a maximum of twice a day. I would suggest 11am -12pm and 4pm-5pm.

Thirdly I would have an automatic reply set up saying something like "Thanks for your email. Confirm I have received it and will reply to it as soon as I can".

Personally I dont reply to emails right away and generally reply to emails between 1 and 2 days after receiving.

I would also suggest not reading your emails on your phone outside working hours.

The above all just my opinion. Others may disagree.

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Replying to marks:
ALISK
By atleastisoundknowledgable...
13th Aug 2018 08:05

Thanks Marks, all good ideas that I’ll implement.

Although one of my problems is that we’re an open office & a very small team - 3 days a week it’s just me & 2 trainees in the office so as best as I try not to, sometimes I can’t help but get interrupted.

I’m going to have the juniors give a default “he’s in a mtg” telephone response for me which will save a bit more interruption.

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By Mr_awol
12th Aug 2018 22:08

Keep a work list separate so that you can prioritise work properly regardless of delivery method.

Or, to get you in a better habit, for about a month only open outlook once a day - and print out every email, putting it in you post tray alongside letters and phone messages etc. Pretend it is all post and you’ll see how you treat it totally different when it’s all ‘equal’

For some reason we have an expectation that an email requires an immediate response and a letter can wait three days

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By Maslins
13th Aug 2018 10:53

As time has gone on, my role has drifted increasingly away from doing what people might call "proper work". I virtually never prepare accounts/tax returns anymore. My role is mostly answering queries from both clients and staff. Ie the majority of my role is being interrupted.

It's not for everyone, but works for me. On occasion where there's some kind of project (eg business development type thing) I want to work on, I need to consider the timing so I'm not interrupted non stop.

I say the above, mainly because if you're predominantly dealing with "small" clients, then the more you can take on/train up competent staff, the more your role might drift to be like mine.

I totally get the "only look at/answer emails between these 2-3 timeslots" if you spend most of your day trying to do proper work. The distractions will otherwise make the real work you do take ages and have a high risk of errors. Personally I wouldn't do the OoO for this. Surely nobody should be waiting more than half a day for a response.

However, I'd suggest it depends on what you want from your role. Mine may be many people's worst nightmares, but I enjoy it.

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By atleastisoundknowledgable...
13th Aug 2018 10:10

Unfortunately, I am trying to fit multiple roles ('proper work' & BD & queries) into my hours at the moment, due to a combination of new/junior staff, jobs too high level for the staff I have & undercharging.

Not a great position to be in, but i'm doing my best to move away from it, it'll just take a while.

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Replying to atleastisoundknowledgable...:
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By marks
13th Aug 2018 22:02

atleastisoundknowledgable... wrote:

jobs too high level for the staff I have & undercharging.

The above is easy to solve. Employee higher quality staff rather than junior staff and start charging what you should be charging.

Personally I would list all your clients by turnover and put into 5 groups (top 20% of turnover, then the next 20% then the next etc). Your bottom 20% of clients you will find make up a lot of clients. All those clients you should immediately double or triple their price. Some will leave and some wont. Even if they all leave you will only lose 20% of your income but probably 40%-50% of your client numbers leaving you more time to work on the top fee earning clients.

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By Maslins
14th Aug 2018 09:13

Each to their own, but personally I don't agree with the above (2nd para). It implies small clients = bad, big clients = good. Yes of course there may be a few tiny clients with tiny fees who cause significant aggro/work, by all means you'll want to get rid of those if/when you can...but small clients can be great.

- low risk. If you've got 100 clients and a couple leave, so what. If you have 10 clients and a couple leave, it's squeaky [***] time.
- low maintenance. Of course exceptions to every rule, but a lot of the time small clients = easy clients. The £GBP amounts involved in their accounts will be modest, so risk of a big muck up is trivial. Therefore easier to delegate these to relatively junior staff. Big clients will want your personal attention.
- systemising/efficiencies. If you've got a large number of similar clients, you can automate some things, further reducing staff time required to get the basics done.

We've basically done the opposite of marks suggestion. When a client grows to the extent of taking on multiple staff, buying property, or some other not that rare complexity, we agree a suitable time for them to move on. Ie we deliberately avoid "bigger" clients. It enables us to focus on what we know well.

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By atleastisoundknowledgable...
14th Aug 2018 09:40

It took me a few years, but (now) in essence I agree with this, we're trying to increase our client base at the c£1k level for the same reasons as Maslins. It's a juggling act, as I still want to have the £10k-£20k clients, just maintain a manageable quantity and have it reduce as a % of our turnover - hopefully due to smaller client growth rather than big client loss. I'm not actively looking for more big clients & outsourcing the bookkeeping if they come to me.

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Replying to atleastisoundknowledgable...:
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By Mr_awol
14th Aug 2018 09:55

atleastisoundknowledgable... wrote:

It took me a few years, but (now) in essence I agree with this, we're trying to increase our client base at the c£1k level for the same reasons as Maslins.

I agree with both of you. If I were to sack my bottom 20% of turnover then I'd get rid of all the basic bread and butter jobs which I tend to save up for when I'm feeling lazy and I want to crack out £1,000 or so and have a half day. Mark's idea would be crazy in my portfolio.

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Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
13th Aug 2018 10:43

Back in the early 1990s we used to try to split the day, morning was possibly taking calls, replying to mail etc, afternoons hold the calls and actually do some accounting work. (though senior partner did not like the call holding as that meant we had to call client so we paid for the call)

However this was really well before e mail and I do acknowledge that it does demand its own attention, my approach these days (though I do not work in practice) is to pretty much fire away answers upon receipts to all very straightforward e mails (even if just saying thanks, received, noted) and print out, to be answered later ,those e mails that need a more considered response.

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By ohgoodgodno
13th Aug 2018 16:11

I send most client queries by email, so I work offline to allow messages to be composed, but prevent new messages coming in

I then simply go back 'online' 3 times a day to receive emails and send my own messages

You could also try delaying the sending of emails so that you are not constantly getting barrage of replies

whilst some clients want an instant reply, I do find that most in that position will pick up the phone to ask a question

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By Manchester_man
13th Aug 2018 21:00

It is certainly a task in itself, managing emails in a modern practice.

I too find myself doing very little 'accounting work' and more dealing with clients, answering queries, going out to see clients etc. I need more time to do BD for my own practice but like Maslins, I'm happy to be doing less actual number crunching and more of what I believe a partner should be doing.

I use outlook for emails but the provider is Google G Suite, so I have set up Google tasks and have (somehow) manager to integrate it so that I can either hit shift and T to make an email a 'task' if using the native Gmail app, or flag the email if using outlook. Whichever method I use, this adds a task to Google tasks and Outlook tasks. I then have the G-Tasks app on my phone which also syncs to Google (it's better than the Google tasks for iPhone/Android as it allows me to have a 'widget' on the home screen of my phone, giving a list of tasks when I'm out and about.

I ONLY use this for tasks that originated by email / client queries, which keeps it fairly uncluttered.

The main practice tasks, being vat returns, payrolls, HMRC deadlines are all managed pretty much automatically through Accountancy Manager.

It's the only way I've found that works for me. I'm a very keen procrastinator and it seems to work.

Some people write lists on paper, but this doesn't work for me at all. I either lose the piece of paper or forget to write it down.

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By reconynge
14th Aug 2018 12:12

Hi

If it helps, I find this regime works very well

1) Use Sanebox (sanebox.com) to sort out incoming mail, binning spam and the like, and putting emails into folders like "Read Later", "News", etc
2) Use Postbox (postbox-inc.com) as your mail client using features like organising incoming emails by moving them to special folders, or putting as high priority emails marked as "URGENT", and so on
3) Be ultra disciplined, even when you are on your own in the office, and pick up emails at set times during work hours

As an example, of how 1) and 2) work, my Sanebox has been trained for all client emails to stay in the inbox; Postbox then moves them into the relevant client folders. Thus, when I do read my mail, I can quickly and easily focus on the clients' correspondence first, then the rest follows as time allows - usually about 50 emails in less than five minutes, highlighting the ones I should read for when I have quality time to do so.

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Jennifer Adams
By Jennifer Adams
14th Aug 2018 18:24

Communication has moved on from the letter and getting a reply to an email almost immediately is something that many clients expect.I recently had an email from a client asking something that I needed to check. I emailed and said I'd be back asap and then responded 20 mins later with a fully researched and considered reply. His response?... he'd gone somewhere else and found the answer quicker.
I use an automatic 'I'm not in' email response on Gmail when I am out of the office but I am looking for a practice management system that manages emails and sends different standard emails to different clients and I am viewing Accountancymanager on Thursday to see what they do with email management.
I've just listened to Mark Wickershams webinar on pricing for accountants. Using his method then automatic quick answering of emails would come within the 'gold' service ie those clients who pay most get the best (quickest) email response.
If you answer all emails immediately you'll find you never get any ordinary work done plus there are times when you need to take time to calm down before responding (e.g when you need to send a considered response to an email from a client who is being a pain).
Re disabling emails on your phone... cant help you there... I still have my trusted nokia.

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By pauljohnston
15th Aug 2018 13:54

Disabling mail on your iphone. This can be done by downloading the outlook app and turning off all notifications and only receive your office email via this method. You wont know when stuff arrives you will deal with it when you open the app.

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