Time is arguably the most valuable resource for accountants, which is why progressive accounting firms regularly look at where their hours are going and do whatever they can to make their most time-consuming processes more efficient. For many, the biggest consumer of time is their inbox.
Accountants often handle 100-200 emails per day, which equates to 24 hours each week in their inbox. In contrast, some progressive accounting professionals are handling less than 50 emails per day and spending just 6 hours emailing each week. What are they doing differently?
To help you cut down the time you spend dealing with email, here are four strategies these progressive accounting firms are using to rise above their inbox.
Step 1: Be efficient with your email from the start
You need to change the way you interact with your emails when you first look at them. Instead of going through your inbox with no clear system, triage it, prioritizing when you should address everything.
For each email, ask these questions:
- Can you delete it without reading it?
- Can you read it then archive it?
- Can you deal with it instantly (with just a short response)?
- Can someone else from your team action it?
- Does it require a significant amount of time?
Your goal should be to touch each email just once, either acting on it now, assigning it to a colleague, or creating a to-do item for you to address later. Try to break the habit of reading an email and then leaving it to come back to later. You not only run the risk of not getting to it, if you do, you’ll have to spend even more time re-reading it.
Your inbox is not designed to be a to-do list. Process everything in your inbox that you can right there and then, and everything else that requires more time should be turned into a proper to-do item and part of your workflow for the day. Evaluate, take action and move on.
I reverse engineer the process each day by selecting all unread e-mails, and then unchecking the ones I want to keep while deleting the rest. This eliminates 90% of it, which is junk I don't need, or don't care about.
Step 2: Come back three times a day
You might have a habit of scrolling through your inbox as you’re commuting on the train, while you eat breakfast, or even as you lie in bed. Rather than checking email haphazardly during other activities, make visiting your inbox an activity of its own with a set time slot in your day.
Set aside a few specific times—studies have found three times a day is the ideal amount—making sure you allocate enough time to process all of your new messages that have come in since you last ‘triaged’ your inbox.
This is pivotal—checking your inbox is disruptive, breaks you away from your regular work, and then forces you to re-establish context when you get back to it. Going back and forth throughout the day wastes time.
Step 3: Cut down the traffic
If you can reduce the overall flow of email coming in, you’ll need to spend less time triaging your inbox. There are several tactics you can use to do this.
If you use your work email address for everything, look at creating some new ones. At a minimum, you should have three email addresses—one for work, one for personal life, and one for spam. The first two are self-explanatory, but the spam email is for any website or service that requires an email address when you sign up. This is the best way to stop newsletters and promotional emails filling up your work inbox.
You should also make use of an online calendar app such as Calendly to reduce the back and forth it takes to schedule an appointment or meeting. With your availability in front of your client, they can see when you're free, pick a time that works for them, and automatically confirm the time and arrangements.
Finally, try to keep casual chat or other communication that can be done via another medium (more on this next) out of email. Every email you send will likely generate at least one return email. Send fewer emails and you’ll receive fewer emails.
Step 4: Explore better communication tools
One of the main reasons accountants are spending huge portions of their day in their inbox, is that email has outgrown what it was originally designed for. Fortunately, there is a range of modern communication and productivity apps you can explore for your practice.
We implemented Slack in early 2015 and in the last year, we've reduced our email by over 60%. Email is no longer used for inter-company communication—only to send info or get info from clients.
For an option designed specifically for accounting practices, look at Karbon, which keeps all communication between staff and clients in one place, visible throughout your whole team. You can easily turn emails into actionable tasks, assign them to your colleagues, and incorporate email into your workflow.
The tools and structure Karbon provide make finding, organizing and responding to the varied email chains easy and intuitive. For the first time, I feel in control of my communication and not enslaved to it.
By making a few changes to your regular email routine, you’ll tame the amount of email coming in, deal with it more efficiently, and spend much less time in your inbox—freeing you up to focus on the work you want to.