Emails. We couldn’t do business without them but get too many and they quickly become a major source of stress. If you take some time to sort through your inbox and implement some quick fixes then you can reduce the stress really easily.
Ditch the junk – take a look at all the newsletter and promo emails you get each day. Are you taking advantage of the offers? Are you even reading them? If the answer is no then unsubscribe. You’ll reduce your email traffic instantly.
Use folders – set up folders for each client or project and file emails as soon as they’ve been actioned.
Tagging – have a simple tagging/flagging system. Set one up using Categories in Outlook or Stars in Gmail. I use 3 tags in my inboxes – Action needed, Awaiting reply, Urgent. If an email doesn’t fall under one of these categories then it doesn’t belong in your inbox. File or delete it.
Colour-coding – take Categories (or Labels in Gmail) to the next level and colour-code your inbox. You could apply different colours for clients, projects, type of task – whatever suits your style of working best. Once it’s set up you’ll be able to see at a glance what needs to be done.
Stress trigger 2: You can’t keep track of your to-dos
How do you manage your to-do list? Do you even have one?
If not, set one up straightaway. Trying to keep track of all your to-dos in your head is hugely stressful.
If you’re using pen and paper ensure your lists are kept all in one place – get a notebook or folder – so you don’t lose them.
Consider using online software to keep track of your to-do lists. In the corporate world I was a big fan of Microsoft Tasks, which has lots of useful features, such as being able to drag and drop emails to create a task and the ability to link in with Categories. Now that I’m freelance I use Trello for all my to-do lists. It’s versatile and really easy to set up, plus there’s an app for adding those things that pop into your head when you’re out and about or late at night.
If you have regular tasks that you do monthly or quarterly add the full process to an online to-do list. Include links to website and documents that you need to use so that you don’t have to go hunting around for them every time you follow the process. It saves a massive amount of time and stress.
Stress trigger 3: There’s never enough time
Managing time is major bugbear for most busy people but there are ways to make it easier.
Tackle procrastination – beware of ‘productive procrastination’ i.e. doing work that doesn’t need to be done there and then when you should be getting on with something more urgent.
Block time – take time each week to block out what you should be doing next week. Either go for a simple am/pm system or make it more detailed, whichever suits you best. Then stick to your schedule.
Build in contingency – if you think a job is going to take 2 hours, allocate at least 2.5 to allow for interruptions, loo breaks etc.
Track your time – write down how long you’re spending on tasks, use the timer function on your phone or use time-tracking software to make you more aware of how you’re spending your time.
Use shortcuts wherever you can. Create templates for standard emails, presentations and word documents.
Find out what useful shortcuts are available in the programmes you use frequently. For instance I use Word all the time – Format Painter and Styles are my friends and save a huge amount of time.
How do you make your work life easier? I’d be fascinated to hear what your favourite time-saving tips, tricks and tools are – let me know in the comments.