On the Splash Effect blog we have talked a lot about how our crew tracks time, writes perfect actionable tasks and communicates internally, but we haven’t discussed one of our most used communication tools: Gmail. While it would be wonderful to live in a world without email, when working in an agency environment email is inevitably the tool you use most often to communicate with clients. Even though apps like Slack and Asana allow us to cut down on the volume of internal email sent at Splash Effect significantly, as a team we still wade through upwards of 400 client-related emails per week, most of which contain actionable tasks that require attention. How do we stay on top of it all?

Well, we all have our different methods, but recently while in a team meeting I shared some of my favourite Gmail hacks with the crew that help me stay on top of client communication, identify and keep track of the status of actionable tasks, and minimize the time spent navigating my inbox every day so I can spend more time doing the work. Let’s just say their minds were blown and they made moves to adopt some of these hacks themselves. As these tips were so revolutionary for the team I thought I would share some of my hacks here so you, too, can get on top of your inbox.

SPRING CLEAN

Before you take on any of these new email habits I recommend going all Marie Kondo on your email inbox. That doesn’t mean you have to delete everything, but it means putting everything in its place and keeping only the emails that still need addressing in your inbox. I recently spring cleaned my inbox by putting all emails dated before January 2017 into a folder entitled “ARCHIVE (PRE 2017)”. Into this folder also went any emails from January – June from completed projects or conversations unrelated to client-specific or Splash Effect work. I am holding onto these emails for archival purposes only, but having them cluttering my inbox was not bringing me any joy. Key tip: don’t bother looking closely at these emails. Just move them over and move on. If you look to closely you might find something you’ve missed (that, let’s be honest, everyone has forgotten about by now) or might hold onto something unnecessarily because you think it’s more critical than it actually is. 9 times out of 10 you will never return back to this folder, but it’s good to have just in case you need it.

For emails within the last six months that are still relevant to current client projects, move completed items into folders named for each of your clients (learn how to do this in the next step) and leave any emails that still need addressing (either a task that you need to complete or something that’s waiting on follow-up from the client) in your inbox. If you’re lucky, you’ll be left with a very manageable number of emails in your inbox to triage and get to work on, bringing you that much closer to the elusive “inbox-zero”.

LABEL EVERYTHING

Though not quite as fun as a Dymo label maker, Gmail’s labelling feature will help you easily identify which emails in your inbox belong to each client. Get started by creating labels for all of your clients (or projects, major tasks or however you split up your workload). To do this, go to your Gmail settings, click the “Labels” tab and under labels, create new labels by clicking the “Create New Label” button.

When new emails come in, take a moment to assign them one of the labels you have set up. The label will then appear before the subject line of the email in your inbox, making it incredibly easy to see which emails are pertaining to each client at a glance. No more trolling through your inbox to find that one email in a sea of emails!

When you create a label in Gmail it simultaneously creates a folder that can be found on the left sidebar of the app. When you label an email it is automatically placed in the corresponding folder. These folders come in handy when spring cleaning your inbox and also after you have completed tasks (more on this later).

LOOK BEYOND THE STARS

You have more than likely “starred” an email in Gmail before, but did you know you can also mark your emails with other alerts such as exclamation points, checkmarks and more? Head into your Gmail settings once again and under “General” and then “Stars” check out all of the other options at your disposal!

To activate more stars simply drag the stars you want from the “not in use” section to the “in use” section. I like to use the yellow-star, yellow-bang, green-check and purple-question markers to organize my inbox and keep track of my tasks. I could use more, but I like to keep it to these 4 markers so it’s easier to remember each meaning and triage my emails accordingly. So, how exactly do I use these simple markers to make my inbox more manageable?

⭐️ Yellow-Star ⭐️

I use the traditional Yellow-Star marker to identify emails that need addressing but are not high-priority. This is most often assigned to internal Splash Effect tasks that are on the back-burner until urgent client-related tasks have been moved forward or completed.

✅ Green-Check ✅

As you can probably guess, the Green-Check marker is used only when I have completed tasks. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a column of these little green checks!

⚠️ Yellow-Bang ⚠️

This is definitely my most used marker in Gmail. I use this for any urgent task that needs addressing or as reminders of upcoming tasks. This can be used to mark the little two-minute tasks, as well as bigger more complex tasks that lend directly to the project’s completion. Most of our top-level account tasks will be already housed in Asana, but through email is often where we identify the more granular (but still labour-intensive) tasks that lend to the completion of the top-level tasks. When I identify tasks through email of this nature I mark them with a yellow-bang, but I also create a corresponding task in that project in Asana to keep track of the work there. I also use this to remind me of events I need to promote on social for my community management accounts and only move those to the green-check marker once I have either added it to an editorial calendar or the event date has passed.

❔ Purple-Question ❔

The Purple-Question marker I use for instances where I have responded to an email but am waiting on either feedback from the client or something from another member of my team before we can move forward or consider the task completed. I have found this especially helpful as a reminder to follow-up on tasks that are out of your hands. If I notice a Purple-Question has been hanging around for a while I know that I should follow-up with the client or colleague to make sure that the task is being worked on or to find out what I can do to help unblock them.

TRIAGE YOUR EMAIL

One key to making this system work is to triage your email as soon as you see them. When a new email arrives in your inbox and you have read it, either respond right away if you can or take a moment to label the email with the corresponding client and assign it a marker based on the actions described above. Taking this extra second will make your email much more manageable and will help keep this system in place.

CLEAN IT UP

When you clean a little and more often, it means that you have don’t have to deep clean as frequently. I am still working on applying this wisdom to my home, I have come to master it with my email. When your email begins to push onto the second page (or even beyond one scroll of the window), it’s time to clean up your inbox. Since your inbox is now fully labelled and marked up, it makes cleaning even easier. When it’s time to clean simply use the search term: has:green-check in:inbox to isolate the emails that have been completed in your inbox. Click into the first email and remove the inbox tag from your email. This will remove the email from your inbox but keep the email in the folder dedicated to the client in question.

Doing this every so often will help you focus your inbox view on only the emails that need addressing, thereby reducing any feelings of being overwhelmed or anxious about your inbox, and saving you time in the long run.

What do you do to keep your email under control? Get in touch with us on social @splasheffectca to share your top tips!