Streamlining contact channels: how I took my 20 ‘inboxes’ down to three
If you’re currently contactable via at least 20 different ‘inboxes’ between email, your phone and social media you’ll know managing inboxes is a lot of work and hugely distracting to productivity.
When I was a student I spent two years working at the customer service desk at Ikea. What this taught me was that different individuals communicate best in different ways and the sooner you embrace that, the better you will be able to help people.
Which is why, in running my own business today, I provide multiple channels for my customers to contact me. I know some people love to chat on the phone, others love writing essay length emails. Then there are those who prefer a simple live chat or chain of texts.
Here’s the problem with that policy. I currently get contacted by clients (both new and existing) via the following communication channels, to name a few:
- Email (I have two accounts)
- Text messages
- Phone calls
- Voice mail
- Whats App
- Google Hangouts
- Facebook messages
- LinkedIn Messages
- Podio messages (my project management system)
- Don’t even get me started on Slack…
Not only is this a massive list of ‘inboxes’ to check and manage daily it’s also a HUGE distraction given it involves switching back and forth from one program or device to another throughout the course of the day.
As tempting as it is to sit at my desk and feel like an amazing superhero multitasker flipping from one program to the next, the truth is, it’s incredibly unproductive to be checking that many inboxes constantly.
"What this exercise proved to me is that people easily accept disruption into their workflow if it creeps in over time."
So what’s the answer? Well, I’m not going to pretend there’s a one-size-fits-all method that’s going to suit everyone reading this. But here’s what I suggest for managing inboxes:
- Make an audit of all the communication programs and apps you use. Mine was frightening.
- Prioritise them in the order of which you, and your clients, use most frequently.
- Figure out the device you are most productive on and spend most of the time using – is this the device you want to use primarily for communicating? For me this was my Surface Pro – I work best on it and so can communicate faster using it if I don’t have to switch devices to do my work or communicate with clients.
- Next, make a note of the programs you spend most of your day ‘in’ or using to get your work done. For me, that’s Google Apps and Podio. As much as possible you want to streamline your communications to come via these programs.
The answers to these questions will help you identify what the core platform of your communications inbox is – or where you ideally want all of your communications to come in to so that you can stay focused on getting things done.
How your solution looks is going to vary on what you identified in step two above (feel free to post a comment below if you need some advice on how to streamline your channels). For now, however, I’ll share my own answers.
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I work 70% of the time on my Surface Pro yet receive almost all of my communications via my phone. That’s great for accessibility and mobility but not great when I want to be productive and get through a day. I needed to streamline my inboxes to come via Podio and Google apps (Gmail) on my Surface Pro. So here’s what I did:
- I set one of my email accounts (the secondary one) to forward to the other (my primary email) and enabled myself to be able to ‘reply’ from the secondary email account in the primary one. One less inbox to check.
- I got an app that sends and receives my text messages into my Gmail inbox – I chose Mighty Text.
- I discovered that Gmail /Google Hangouts allows you to make calls directly from its chat interface and started using this to make calls.
- I started using the Whats App web portal to send and receive messages while on my Surface Pro as this was the messaging app I use most.
- Using some automation magic (thank you Zapier) I connected my social channels to forward all messages received via social accounts to my Podio account. I still need to go back to the channels and reply but receiving them all in one place means I don’t have to constantly check all the inboxes.
- The last thing I did was to make a decision that I was ok with using these main channels to message my clients during my productivity hours. Maybe that sounds small but setting this boundary helped me restrict the programs and devices I would use during productivity hours.
Some of these solutions were incredibly easy once I searched for a solution – and you’ll likely find the same thing. What this exercise proved to me is that people easily accept disruption into their workflow if it creeps in over time. Stopping to fix it takes time and effort yet can often be far simpler than you think and give you a huge boost to your productivity. Like most things, it’s the little things that make a difference.
So – make some time.
How many different ways are clients able to contact you currently? I’d love to hear some numbers and how you are managing inboxes!