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The Email Management System That Saved My Life

02/28/2014

in Productivity

Managing our inbox is harder than it’s ever been.

In fact, just typing in “email management” yields 2.1 BILLION search results.

Don’t believe me?

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 3.02.05 AM

 It’s getting ugly, folks!

It seems like large parts of our day are consumed with email: thinking about it, organizing it and responding to it. In response to this surge, entire schools of thought  have cropped up around the concept of effective inbox management.

“Only check it once a day, for an hour!”

“Set up a bunch of filters and get rid of all the spam!”

“Set up an auto-responder and tell people not to expect an email back!”

All of these can work. But eventually, the systems erode under the crushing wave of new to-do’s and you’re left where you started.

So what’s the solution to a completely overloaded inbox? How can you take your time (and your sanity) back?

I’ve been working really hard at solving this problem and I’ve finally come up with the a solution that, in all honesty, has changed my life.

Here’s a basic outline of the system — make sure to review this, then watch the video below. You’ll get a better feel for how everything works together.

Step 1: Find a Great Virtual Assistant

Stop right there.

The initial reaction when I tell people that I have a virtual assistant is either:

  • “What? Why would you need that?”
  • “That must be really expensive?”

or…

  • “Where would I even FIND someone like that?”

The answers to those questions, in order, are:

Yes, an assistant.

Because I have too much work on my plate and need help.

It’s not that expensive, have you even looked? Elance, oDesk, Craigslist, etc.

Tim Ferriss first taught us that this type of time leverage was possible — but how many of us actually take advantage of the opportunity to have someone help us with our most time-consuming tasks?

The fact is, if you find yourself spending more time processing, sorting and organizing email than actually getting work done — you’re doing it wrong. Get help.

You’d be surprised how easy it is to find someone who can help you at an affordable rate — sometimes even as low as $4/hour.

Here’s a closer look at how I use Craigslist to find virtual assistants.

Step 2: Create a workflow with your assistant

My assistant Caleb is AMAZING. Not only is he the single greatest asset I have in optimizing my time — but he’s devoted.

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The Pavlok logo, immortalized on Caleb

Yes, that’s an actual tattoo of the Pavlok logo on Caleb’s wrist. He goes the extra mile.

But aside from having matching tattoos, we’ve also developed an incredible workflow to cut my email processing time into a fraction of what it used to be. Our system is set up like this:

1) Since Caleb is based in the Philippines, he starts work before I even get in the office. The majority of the “heavy lifting” is done before I even start working.

2.) Caleb splits our emails into 4 different tags:

  • “Caleb/Maneesh handled”: These are things that I’ve already handled
  • “Caleb Finished”: These are emails Caleb has completed on his own
  • “Handle this Maneesh”: Things that he’s not sure about that I should look at
  • “In progress”: Things that he’s composed a draft for

There’s also a “reference” and “to archive” tag to keep track of things that I should remember and store for later.

Step 3: Set up the system

Next, we use these tabs to start working through the inbox rapidly.

I have a filter in my inbox to send all Hack The System emails to my “forums” tab in gmail. Caleb takes a quick look through those and drafts quick responses based on customized templates we’ve set up.

Then, Caleb will move to my primary inbox and start scanning. When he finds something he doesn’t know how to answer himself, he’ll tag it, “Handle this Maneesh.”

But what he does next is the system that changed my life….

We’ve created a spreadsheet in Google Docs called “Maneesh Handle This” — where Caleb copies all the relevant information for emails tagged “Maneesh Handle This”. The names, dates, contact information and the content of the email are all included.

Within that spreadsheet, I leave comments telling him exactly how I want to interact.

The system is set up so that I can draft a response right in the spreadsheet myself or have him to draft a response for me to double check before sending. We use color codes so that he knows exactly how an email should be handled, and where it should go.

And rather than having to open and close 100 emails, I can simply scroll down one spreadsheet, leave notes and comments, and complete dozens of conversations in a personalized way…but in a fraction of the time it would take me to do all of this manually.

Bonus tip: Often, I’ll even call Caleb in the morning on the way to work and have him read me the spreadsheet from the top. I’ll tell him exactly how I want to handle each email based on our system. He’ll complete it all for me, then I won’t even have to log in when I get to the office.

This system gets me to inbox zero every single day. And it feels incredible.

If this process seems complex, don’t worry, it’s not.

Take a look at the video and see EXACTLY how the entire system works together:

 

 

After you watch this video, a few questions (you’ll have to watch in order to understand):

  1. Has this video helped you?
  2. Is this system something you would consider implementing?
  3. Would you be interested in getting the automatic script for this — for free?

 

Let me know in the comments!

{ 50 comments… }

Laura August 8, 2016 at 10:02 am

yes,
yes,
yes, please!

Reply

Vaishnavi September 7, 2015 at 8:28 am

LOVED this. Thank you so much for sharing. I would love the script if you have it and am definitely going to implement something similar. Video was super helpful to see it in action

Reply

Vhairi August 2, 2015 at 10:32 am

Hey – great article and system. I haven’t come across anyone doing it that way before but it reminds me a little of hootesuite for social media posting. It’s a wonder there is not a programme for it like hootesuite (perhaps there is). I am a PA and a virtual PA and use Outlook tasks for much the same thing. I have also been creating an email management package for the organisation I work for which is why I am contacting you. I love your graphic – did you create this and is the image copyrighted? I would love to use it, but would rather check than just take it. Thanks. Vhairi

Reply

Nyle June 25, 2015 at 2:05 pm

Wow.. I need that script.. please? Thank you :)

Reply

Caleb Abenoja July 11, 2015 at 9:27 am

If I remember correctly, Maneesh gave up perfecting this script and developed something even better – Pavlok! :)

Reply

Em January 8, 2015 at 11:49 pm

Hi Maneesh, thank you for sharing this useful information. It will be extra helpful for us to be able to get a copy of your script. I hope you can notify through email. Thanks a lot!

Reply

Adam December 29, 2014 at 11:53 pm

1) Yes
2)Yes
3) Yes – would like to try out the script
Where can I find a Caleb clone?

Reply

Caleb Abenoja April 16, 2015 at 11:46 am

It took Maneesh at least 10 tries before we finally bumped to each other. He found me through staff.com

Reply

Dani December 26, 2014 at 7:39 pm

I am an assistant and use a similar system but having the script would be great! Let me know how I can get it. Thank you! :)
Awesome website by the way!

Reply

Reina September 17, 2014 at 5:29 pm

1. Yes
2. Yes
3. Yes…urgently

Reply

derek jacoby June 19, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Nice workflow. I would be interested in the script as well. Thanks!

Reply

Senthilnathaswami April 23, 2014 at 5:19 pm

1. Yes. Very informative and an excellent complement to the article.
2. Absolutely. It’s already on my agenda to go over with my higher-up, to seek conceptual approval and funding.
3. Absolutely.

Reply

Rebecca March 29, 2014 at 4:23 am

Yes,Yes and Yes.

Reply

roger March 21, 2014 at 9:09 am

I need that Script!!!

Reply

Delfina March 12, 2014 at 7:02 am

1. Great work! And, awesome!
2. Yes
3. Yes

Reply

marcie March 11, 2014 at 3:16 am

My take away: People really are geeks when it comes to email management . . .

Release the script . . .

Reply

Steve Daar March 10, 2014 at 6:51 pm

Wow….thank you for that video.

I have some VA’s but not sure if I’m ready to outsource email – – but since my job is to test & optimize I think that means I HAVE to try it.

Will let you know how it goes.

Thank you again, Maneesh

Reply

rick March 9, 2014 at 5:50 am

1. yes.
2. Yes!
3. YES!!!!

Reply

Rob March 8, 2014 at 6:15 pm

would love to see script. thanks.

Reply

JP March 8, 2014 at 11:19 am

Yes, yes, and yes!

Reply

Ian O'Brien March 8, 2014 at 7:54 am

Triple yes Ramit. Great post.

Reply

Joyce March 7, 2014 at 9:34 pm

But how do you find an amazing asst like that? I go to elance and i can’t handle the choices…

Reply

Ritchie March 7, 2014 at 8:55 pm

Would love to see the scripts, maybe posted on to Github ?

Reply

Yannick March 7, 2014 at 3:16 pm

Very helpful video, interested in testing the system and in your script

Reply

Maya March 7, 2014 at 10:53 am

Yes, I’d love to have the scripts. Definitely an upgrade for my current VA. I think he’ll appreciate it.

Reply

Corey March 7, 2014 at 10:16 am

I am interested in getting the automatic script!

Reply

rosie March 7, 2014 at 6:38 am

yes! Really useful idea!

I have a system in place but you have given me ideas to improve it.

Reply

Gabriel March 6, 2014 at 5:56 pm

Great system Maneesh, and that script for sure will come in handy. Please release it!

Reply

Andrew March 6, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Tres Yes!

Reply

Joe Howard March 6, 2014 at 3:14 pm

some interesting ideas. I’ll give it some serious thought. I’ve been toying with the idea of a VA, anyway. The spreadsheet is a wonderful idea. Love to see the script.

Reply

jakada March 6, 2014 at 3:10 pm

This indeed did help in several ways. I am definitely going to try this out or some variation of the system and would like to try your script.

Reply

komson March 6, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Maneesh -how do you handle e-mails with personal info with Caleb in the mix?

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Maneesh Sethi March 6, 2014 at 1:49 pm

I let him! I trust him. He has a tattoo of my company, after all.

Reply

Rob McNelis March 6, 2014 at 1:26 pm

I would definitely use the script. I’ve seen software that does something similar, but I would prefer email specialized. Thanks!

Reply

Frank Jones March 6, 2014 at 12:42 pm

The video made this much easier to understand, and I’d like a copy of that script.

Reply

JW March 6, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Maneesh, it sounds like the system is hacking you instead of you hacking the system. You developed a “hack” to deal with the “email-system” affecting your time, instead of fixing the system all together.

Email eats your time when you need to create replies (hence the canned answers you have created); therefore, if I need to reply to an email and can’t do it in five (5) sentences or less, I call the sender or arrange for a 2-3 minute phone call/Skype to resolve the issue.

Filtering through email is the easy part, (you can set rules, make decisions if you even open it based on subject/sender, etc.), figuring out how to reduce the volume is the hard part. From what I see Caleb is staying busy managing your volume.

In the end you shared what works for you. To me it seems overly complicated by having to deal with email in two places (spreadsheet/inbox) instead of one.

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Maneesh Sethi March 6, 2014 at 1:50 pm

But I don’t! I simply make decisions on a phone call with Caleb — and Caleb handles the logistics of emailing back, or setting up a phone call, or following up later.

Reply

Harry March 6, 2014 at 12:24 pm

1. Word
2. Def
3. Please

Reply

Karen March 6, 2014 at 12:11 pm

1. Yes
2. Yes
3. Yes

Reply

Daven March 6, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Hi Maneesh,
Thanks for the post.
My #1 takeaway is just to not make assumptions about how (in)expensive a VA can be.
It is very easy to get lost in my inbox or something online and I’d like to implement this and your automated script.
I hope you share it but either way thanks again for all your content.

Daven

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Sandra March 6, 2014 at 11:09 am

1. video gave me new ideas
2. would like to try / advice something similar to my boss (who’s absolutely drowning in emails)
3. Even though we wouldn’t be using gmail I’d love to see the script :-)

Reply

Amanda Wilder March 6, 2014 at 10:54 am

Hey hey Maneesh, I’m interested. In this, and all please more topics about how to make effective use of a personal assistant, keep track of work done by PA etc. Thanks for everything.

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Elizabeth March 6, 2014 at 10:48 am

While I don’t begin to have the volume of email that you do, I do receive more than enough that I need/want to act on and am in constant search of an effective system for managing. I think that what you have Caleb do for you, those of us with smaller volume can do for ourselves. It means that we need to use a simple set of ‘tags’ instead of lots of project folders or GTD-like folders. The trick will be to capture your immediate thoughts and reactions in a way that is useful later on when you want to take the action. So.. I would not care about the script personally, but think it would be useful to many.

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Robert March 6, 2014 at 10:47 am

1) Yes. Spreadsheet concept added to what I have seen in Tim’s and GTD examples. I like your idea of just using the spreadsheet so you don’t even waste time opening the email / getting sidetracked.
2) Yes, definitely
3) Yes.

Reply

Alan March 6, 2014 at 10:33 am

OMG-Gimme the script!!!

Reply

Mary March 6, 2014 at 10:23 am

I love the use of the spreadsheet. That’s what made it make sense for me. And finally I can see how I could use a $4 an hour person to handle something and be able to have a tight and concise followup.

Yes, I really do want to implement this. Wowser.

Reply

Mary March 6, 2014 at 10:25 am

And yes, I want the script. YES. Thanks.

Reply

adam March 6, 2014 at 10:12 am

1.nice system
2.yes
3.yes I would like the system for free.

Reply

Maher March 6, 2014 at 10:12 am

Hey Maneesh, that’s an awesome video and you know what? I want to make a software business based on that!! yeah, that’s right. after attending your webinar with Dane Maxwell about starting from nothing, I decided to follow this path and chose hospitals to be my niche. HR in hospitals to be exact and one huge problem that they have is email management. one HR director told me that this problem is toxic so yes! this system definitely interests me since is going to be a huge part of my Saas (software as a service) solution for hospitals!

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Kavi March 6, 2014 at 9:04 am

1) it makes more sense seeing the video
2) would consider trying it out
3) would also like to try the script

Reply

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