When you keep ignoring your inbox.

This week Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to a question from nutritionist Kezia Hall. She says:

“How can I spend less time in my inbox?

I’ve had VAs in the past but there are still LOTS of client emails that I can only answer as they relate to my clients’ health, programs of support or other sensitive issues (AKA talking about their poo or their periods!)

I also get a lot of new clients by following up leads via email etc. But I will literally do anything to avoid sitting down during naptime to bosh through them — I make coffee, watch Modern Family, drink kombucha, even tidy (only when I am desperate).

Ironically I am actually a really efficient worker — I generally feel pretty productive and run my whole nutrition business in 20-25 hrs a week.

But my gmail — it makes my stomach turn.

Any tips, strategies? Or do I just need to grow up, shift my mindset and load up on the ol’ ‘gratitude’ in that I have clients to respond to in the first place…? Even if they do email me about their latest bowel movements or what they ate for dinner??!

All wisdom welcome. I should go now and actually answer some emails…”

Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.


Here’s what was said in this episode:

Comments on the previous episode:

[00:00:55] – Frankie
Hello, you’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie and this is Steve.

[00:01:05] – Steve
Hello. Yes, each week we take a question from a member of Doing It For The Kids community, do our best to answer it, but we also take your comments from the previous week’s question, which means we go back to last week’s question. Last week’s question was-,

[00:01:20] – Frankie

Hannah. Multi hyphen careers. Doing loads of things at once while having very little time due to children, childcare, etc.

[00:01:29] – Steve
That’s right.

Laura Mingozzi-Marsh says,

“After having my son, I continued trying to do it all for two and a half years. When my daughter arrived, however, I reached my limit and had a sudden wondrous realization that actually, when I am at the playground with them, I can just enjoy the moment and not be checking my email while I push the swing.

I don’t have to work all the time to feel I am doing my best anymore. And I know I’ll work more when they are both at school. Yes, I sometimes worry that I’m wasting time, but then I look at my children and realise I’m actually doing the opposite. I have also accepted that a bonus project I have on the side can build slowly and does not have to be designed, launched and maintained right now.

Don’t get me wrong, it was excruciating to surrender the control I had over my career and life in general. As I say, it took years and the prospect of another two years before the small one gets her free hours of childcare is daunting. But the reason I went freelance was to be with them. So that’s what I’m doing.”

[00:02:29] – Frankie
Such a good message.

So, yeah, Laura’s riffing off the conversation we had in the last episode about feeling like you have to do all the things right now, but actually you’re in a very specific part of your life when your kids are small.

In fact, I was talking about this in a talk I did at the weekend — the frustration of wanting to do all the things but not feeling that you have the time and getting to the point where you might feel like you want to give up entirely. There was a woman in the audience who was like, “I just feel like, what’s the point?” kind of thing. And I was like, “there is a point as long as you keep going. It’s about persistence, and like we talked about before, little things every day or every week. If you keep doing those little things, it doesn’t feel like you’re achieving very much but by the end of a year, you would have done loads and you would have put in the groundwork”.

So by the time your child does go into childcare more days a week, you’ll have done all the groundwork already and then you can hit the road running. Hit the ground running, you know what I mean? It’s frustrating and, yeah, you might want to just give up, but keeping on doing those little things — even if they feel pointless — will pay off in the long run with your business.

[00:03:29] – Steve
David Orchard also got in touch.

He said,

“I have the same deliberation. On the one hand — multiple income streams, but at the same time — diluting your efforts. Unless you’re leveraging other people’s time and effort, stick to one thing with laser beam focus.”

Our answer to this week's question:

[00:06:09] – Frankie
This week’s question comes from Kezia Hall, who is a nutritionist,

Kezia says,

“How can I spend less time in my inbox? I’ve had VAs in the past, but there are still lots of client emails that I can only answer as they relate to my client’s health programs of support or other sensitive issues — AKA talking about their poo or their periods! I also get a lot of new clients by following up leads via email, et cetera. But I will literally do anything to avoid sitting down during nap time to bosh through them. I make coffee, watch Modern Family, drink kombucha, even tidy…! Only when I’m desperate.”

Am I saying kombucha right?

[00:06:47] – Steve
I have never heard of that. What is kombucha?

[00:06:50] – Frankie
It’s like some healthy tea? Mushroom tea? Mushroom tea fungus??

[00:06:58] – Steve
I hope they have a better marketing team than that.

[00:07:01] – Frankie
“Fermented, slightly alcoholic, slightly effervescent, sweetened black or green tea consumed for its health benefits”.

[00:07:07] – Steve
I want to try some…

[00:07:08] – Frankie
There you go.

[00:07:09] – Steve
…now you’ve taken the word fungus out of it.

[00:07:13] – Frankie
Kesia continues,

“Ironically, I’m actually a really efficient worker. I generally feel pretty productive and run my whole nutrition business in 20 to 25 hours a week. But my Gmail — it makes my stomach turn.

Any tips or strategies? Or do I just need to grow up, shift my mindset and load up on the old gratitude and that I have clients to respond to in the first place? (Even if they do email me about their latest bowel movements or what they ate for dinner). All wisdom welcome.

I should go now and actually answer some emails…”

[00:07:38] – Steve
Well, given that you hate being in your email, thank you for getting in your email to send an email about email.

Maybe we should fess up first of all. How good are we both with our email? How are you with your email?

[00:07:50] – Frankie
Awful. Truly, truly awful.

[00:07:53] – Steve
How many are in your inbox right now?

[00:07:55] – Frankie
Well, I don’t know, because I read them all. I don’t like having unread notifications on my inbox, so I read them all, but then I just neglect them all. I’ve got a vague system where I categorise them, but it’s a bit like my Trello in that I’ve made one Trello board and just put all my shit on it. My inbox is like… I’ve categorised them, but I’ve got one category and it is ‘look at this again’.

[00:08:25] – Steve
Okay, yeah. Meanwhile, I have about… Well, until a few days ago, I had about 200 emails in my inbox.

[00:08:33] – Frankie

[00:08:34] – Steve
So-, no, not unread. They just sit in my inbox. The trouble is, my inbox becomes… like some of them will go in folders, a lot of them just sit there and it seems like a to-do list. It’s a very bad way of working. I don’t like it. But it also takes a lot of effort to dig yourself out of that hole.

Okay, so we’re coming at this from a place of things we have heard about, but don’t necessarily do, but we know we should be doing.

[00:08:58] – Frankie

[00:09:00] – Steve
The first is labels, folders, categories. I can have VIP addresses, for example. Setting those up, but using them in a sensible way feels like a good place, doesn’t it?

[00:09:14] – Frankie

[00:09:15] – Steve
Setting up rules so that certain emails will go into certain folders is quite good as well. So that might mean that when you log in, you see client emails, but other stuff, like newsletters or stuff from accountants… I’m not saying you shouldn’t come back to the accountancy emails by the way but having them put into a folder is no bad idea.

Also billing emails, PayPal, PayPal receipts. Although I must say I quite like getting paid so maybe I’ll keep those… And I haven’t set up a rule for PayPal receipts because it’s such an easy thing to deal with, and I like the feeling of actually dealing with it. I like the feeling of right clicking and clicking on ‘put it in receipts’.

[00:09:50] – Frankie
Well, this is when you get paid, presumably. So that’s quite a nice thing to do, isn’t it?

Be like, “boom, money in!”

[00:09:55] – Steve
I don’t want them to just hide.

[00:09:56] – Frankie

[00:09:57] – Steve
Also, within certain programs, you can either have ‘hotkeys’ set up or create your own ‘hotkeys’. Gmail has their own, it’s worth knowing what ‘hotkeys’ do what, because it can often make you quicker. This goes across any program that you use, like InDesign that you mentioned earlier or Audition that we edit this podcast with. Just thinking about a process that you do again and again and again and then shortening that down into clicking one button can actually save you a lot of time and make you feel like some sort of ninja. I think it’s worth exploring what those options are.

[00:10:34] – Frankie
The tools that are available to you, yeah.

[00:10:38] – Steve
Expanding upon that — there is an app (and there’s probably lots of versions of this) but it’s called TextExpander. Have you used TextExpander?

[00:10:46] – Frankie
No. What’s that?

[00:10:47] – Steve
After a Doing It For The Kids meetup last year, I went for a beer with Dave Smyth and-,

[00:10:53] – Frankie
Daytime drinking? I totally advocate this, by the way.

[00:10:56] – Steve
Yeah, we went to a German Bierkeller type place opposite and we had German sausage and beer. And he told me at the time, “oh, have you tried TextExpander?” and it’s taken me a year to finally get around to listening to him. It is BRILLIANT.

So basically, you create abbreviations that when you type them in, it recognises that you’ve typed it in and then it will expand into whatever text you tell it to expand into. I might write in “Nm” for name and instead it will write “Steve Folland”.

[00:11:30] – Frankie
Oh, it’s like shorthand?

[00:11:32] – Steve
I could write “BF plug” and it will instead expand all the text I always write for when I’m plugging the Being Freelance podcast on a social media thing.

[00:11:42] – Frankie
That’s clever.

[00:11:43] – Steve
In an email. I now have “BF invite”. If I’m inviting a guest onto Being Freelance, I type “BF invite” and bang — it’s there. It’s even quicker than opening a template.

[00:11:53] – Frankie
Wow, that’s so cool.

[00:11:53] – Steve
It just recognises it and it puts it down. You can use it for hashtags in Instagram because you can get it on your phone as well. So it will automatically work across different devices. it gives you a little keyboard.

[00:12:04] – Frankie
Steve, how have you not told me about this before? We’ve been co-mentoring for a year and this comes up now.

[00:12:10] – Steve
I’ve only recently started using this and realising how good it is. I thought it was good to have like draft emails that I would use a template but Text Expander is so much better.

[00:12:19] – Frankie
Yeah, templates — that’s kind of what I do.

[00:12:21] – Steve
Sure, but actually even quicker than that is just opening an email, hitting these couple of keys and boom, it opens up for you. It will save you so much time. And what is great is that it also recognises phrases that you often use and goes, “you seem to use that a lot, do you want to create a short code for it?”

[00:12:42] – Frankie
It learns as you type. That’s so cool. I’m so doing that.

On a similar theme, I can’t actually remember what it’s called now and I’m sure there are millions, but there are loads of apps and websites that will mass unsubscribe you from newsletters, promotional emails, shit you didn’t even sign up for and can’t remember why or how you plug in your details. It will find all the different things you’re subscribed to and show them to you. And then you can usually manually tick ones in and out so it doesn’t just clear them all without asking you.

I usually do this around this time — January every year. I’m like, what is all this shit in my inbox? And then when I get one of those emails in, I’m straight to the bottom to unsubscribe, which is fine if you keep on top of it, but two weeks in, I’m not keeping on top of it! I’m just deleting them. Again. Yeah, so it’s a really quick, easy way to just get rid of the gumph.

I think one of the issues with feeling like your inbox is stressful is trying to sift through what’s important and what isn’t. It’s so exhausting to see all this crap. Like you say, one way is unsubscribing, the other is making up rules and putting them in separate folders, so you just don’t see that stuff and you can dip in on your terms.

[00:13:53] – Steve
So there’s clearly, like, a confidentiality thing going on here because of the nature of her business. But if there wasn’t a confidentiality thing involved, I would suggest having a VA if you’re really struggling with your email. Make your VA the first person who looks at your email and have them sifting through it. And you can always have a personal email and a business email if you don’t want them seeing your personal emails. But, yeah, they sift through it. There will be lots of stuff that they can reply to with template type stuff that we discussed, or they can filter them through by priority so that they then give them to you so that, you know…

[00:14:26] – Frankie
…what actually needs to be dealt with, gets dealt with?

[00:14:28] – Steve

If there’s a confidentiality thing involved, then maybe, I don’t know… can you have slightly different email addresses, even to the same domain? You can change what comes before it slightly, can’t you?

[00:14:42] – Frankie
Yeah, you can set up — usually with your hosting provider — you can set up multiple emails.
So or

[00:14:48] – Steve
Maybe once you’ve onboarded a client and you’re actually working with them and they’re actually sending you intimate information, then you tell them — “for the sake of your confidentiality, I need you to use this email address now”. I don’t know, there’s got to be a way around it.

And, you know, the person who will probably be able to come up with the best way around it will be a VA who is used to working with other people’s inboxes! Lots of VAs really specialise and geek out on sorting other people’s emails. That’s what makes them so good at their jobs.

[00:15:18] – Frankie
That’s what you pay them for!

[00:15:19] – Steve
Yeah. So ask them, say, “look, this is my issue, I want help with this, but I have confidentiality issues with this — what do you reckon?” And they might well have suggestions that they can already put in place. So I wouldn’t discount the idea of going back and trying a VA again.

[00:15:37] – Frankie
But one of my major procrastination issues, or why I haven’t responded to that email, is usually because of two things. Either a) I just don’t know what the answer is, or b) it’s a no, but I don’t want to tell them that or don’t have the heart to tell them that.

Yeah, so my advice to myself — and to Kesia! — would be… If there are those emails that are coming in and that you know you don’t want to do, just recognise that early. Make yourself a few templates — “I can’t help you with that, but here are some people that can” or whatever it is that you want to tell them and just do it on the spot. Send. Delete. Done.

Because I am so bad at that. It just sits there and yeah, it stresses me out because I have this pile of these seemingly not that important things in my life. It’s not a big deal that I need to say no to that, but the more I let them sit there, the longer the list gets longer and the more stressed I feel about it. If I just dealt with it there and then it’s just gone.

[00:16:38] – Steve
Do you know what you do, though? You have an autoresponder.

[00:16:42] – Frankie
Yes, I do. That’s true.

[00:16:44] – Steve
Quite a good thing to consider as well. As in, if you don’t think you’re going to be able to get to people’s emails for a few days…

[00:16:50] – Frankie
… or a few years!

[00:16:51] – Steve
…then just having an autoresponder saying what your office hours are, or when they can expect a reply, or that you’re especially busy working with a client project at the moment… That kind of thing is quite good. It eases the pressure on you.

Also, if you regularly get certain sorts of emails, in your autoresponder, you can say stuff like, “if you’re looking to work with me, click here. If you’re looking for advice on starting a podcast, click here”.

I don’t do this, but I’m just thinking of the things that people ask me. You could have a list of links that could help. It’s almost like an FAQ thing within an email autoresponder. It sort of self filters itself. I’m going to write that down, that’s quite a good idea…

[00:17:30] – Frankie
Yeah, me too!

[00:17:33] – Steve
I think we all know that if we’re in a bad state without email. We could do with taking — even if it’s a day out or a few evenings out — and just decluttering that inbox to really sort through it. To really think through it, to do it once and for all and then realise that the only way forward will be to stay on top of it.

It’s a bit like trying to eat healthily, isn’t it? You’ve really got to try and stick to it. And then I think that’s when it sort of becomes a rhythm. And we are both email junkies.

[00:18:09] – Frankie
Not good at this.

[00:18:11] – Steve
We’ve got bad habits. But I think by using the smart tools available to us, and by asking people who are actual email geeks to help us put processes in place, but then also — crucially — by sticking to it! Then actually it should become the useful tool that it’s meant to be.

[00:18:27] – Frankie
Mate, I’m doing this. I’m blocking out February.

[00:18:34] – Steve
Well, feels like a good place to leave it since Frankie’s got some work to do on her email inbox.

Tell us your thoughts though. How do you cope with it? Maybe you love email, maybe you hate email. But whatever solutions you’ve got or struggles you’ve got, let us know the comments on Twitter or Instagram in the Doing It For The Kids community.

What would your advice be?

Let us know your thoughts using #DIFTKpodcast on Twitter and Instagram, and join in the conversation via the DIFTK Community on Facebook.