One thing that can take you from overwhelmed newbie wandering in the forest to seasoned design traveler is learning to automate (and eventually, delegate) as many tasks as you can. The less you’re bogged down in detail, the more time you’ll have for the big thinking that precedes big earning.
You’re probably well on your way to speeding things up in your favorite design programs; tell me you can’t execute something in Photoshop ten times faster than you could when you first sat down with the Lasso Tool. Try applying a few of these tricks to your communications, and see if you don’t free up some valuable time for cooler stuff, like making art…or money!
Process your email like you prep a PSD
Once you’ve done enough of the same kind of work in Photoshop or Illustrator—say, resizing photos or creating a certain size of flyer—you devise ways of creating your templates quickly. (And if you haven’t learned about actions, for the love of all that’s holy, go here right now.)
Apply the same principles to processing your inbox and you will vastly reduce the time you spend horsing around in your email client. There are as many “best practices” with email as there are organizational gurus, but the same principles generally apply:
1. Handle things once
2. Process all at once, at scheduled times
3. Clear your inbox, don’t use it as a holding bin
My favorite series on streamlining email handling comes from Merlin Mann, chief ambassador for David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system of organizing, and all-around swell guy. Some great tips on ninja email processing here; get up to speed on GTD here.
Make “rules” your new best friend
One way to keep your inbox clearer from the beginning is to limit what goes there.
In the olden days (I’m a fogey, okay?) we set up 54 email addresses to funnel things here or there. With today’s way more excellent search technology, it’s easier to set up a rule that sends certain email directly to certain folders.
Gmail does this with tags, Mail.app and Outlook do it with rules. They are all beyond spectacular for dealing with mailing lists, which can generate a heavy volume of mail.
For separate accounts you don’t want to get rid of—multiple addresses you have created on your website to deal with various types of queries—you should set up your accounts to run through one mail client so you’re not running all over tarnation to check your mail. Which brings us to the final tip…
Un-automate your mail retrieval
I’m not one of those Shaker types who checks my email once per day, but I also don’t check it every minute. Well, okay—sometimes I do, but I shame myself each time by hitting the “get mail” button.
Unless you’re enormously forgetful, I think it’s always better to turn off the automated delivery feature. Pull, not push, is the way to go for uninterrupted work flow and sanity.
If you must set up to push, at least make the intervals farther apart. Most of us don’t have air-traffic controller level urgency requests; 99 times out of 100, waiting an hour to return an email won’t lose you the job.
These little tasks aren’t as sexy as redesigning your website (again) or shopping for shiny, new storage solutions. But the more you take care of the nitty gritty, the more time you’ll have for that IKEA run. And with the money you save automating, you won’t feel as guilty when you do!