It’s no secret that accountants and bookkeepers handle an average of 100-200 emails per day. That alone would cause many teams to shudder with inbox anxiety. Whether you’re in busy season or any other time throughout the year, the volume of client emails pouring into your inbox will most likely significantly increase.
How can you and your team avoid confusion, frustration, and burnout when it comes to managing client email? Here are seven tips that will help you keep your sanity, increase productivity, and deliver prompt professional replies to your clients.
1. Protect your schedule
Your calendar is your friend when it comes to email. Instead of having an “always on” approach to email, keep that tab or desktop app closed until designated times of the day. Efficient accountants limit their email time so they can stay focused on getting client work done.
You can commit to a flexible schedule that’s based on how you work best. For some, that means blocking off 30 minutes for email at 8 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 4 p.m. For others, it’s 10 minutes scheduled every couple of hours. The point is: don’t leave it to chance, and don’t let email be an ever-present distraction.
2. Turn off (or limit) your notifications
Speaking of distractions, take the time to manage your smartphone and desktop notifications during busy season. Letting your phone ping you anytime an email (or social media alert) comes through will have a negative impact on your brain’s ability to focus, drive stress responses in your body, and can even lead to depression.
With expanded work hours and dedicated times for checking email, there’s a low risk that you’ll actually miss out on critical information. So, take a few minutes to adjust your notification settings and free yourself from digital interruptions. Most computers and phones even have “do not disturb” settings, which let you turn off app notifications for specific blocks of time each day.
3. Maximize the time you spend in your inbox
Now that you have dedicated time in your inbox, you can take it one step further by following an efficient process for managing your email. Inbox zero is a feel-good notion, but it isn’t the most productive use of your time, especially since client emails will just keep coming. Instead, you should try the 4D Method for managing each message in your inbox:
- Delete it
- Defer it
- Delegate it
- Do it
The 4D Method allows you to prioritize your time around emails and work that is most important, without getting bogged down by an obsessive need to keep your inbox empty.
4. Manage expectations
While you’re in the middle of your busy season, it’s important for friends, family, colleagues, and clients to know that you’re handling a larger-than-average workload. You won’t be able to respond to every message within 15 minutes, and it’s important for others to have a proper understanding of when they should expect to hear back from you. You can use email to help manage expectations.
First, consider adding a message to the bottom of your emails that says something like this:
“It’s tax season! My team and I are dedicated to providing the best service for our clients, even with an increased workload. During this time, you can expect to hear back from me within 24-48 business hours. If your request is urgent, please call [phone number].”
You can also add auto-responses to some of your contact forms or specific mailboxes. These auto-responses can confirm that your team has received the email, while also setting an expectation for when contacts can expect a more in-depth response.
5. Use a shared inbox to team up on email
No one expects you to do it all on your own. You’ve got a great team, so the best thing you can do is set up a process to efficiently manage client email together. A shared inbox tool can help centralize all client email in one place, then allow your team to assign, collaborate, and resolve emails without stepping on each other’s toes.
Using a shared inbox will improve your team’s workflow all year long, plus it will give you one-touch access and full visibility into all client communication. You’ll be able to oversee, delegate, and support excellent email communication, rather than becoming a bottleneck for your team.
6. Filter your incoming email with rules
Many firms rely on individual employees to review and manage every email that arrives in the inbox, routing it to the person who’s best-suited to respond. But we’re in the 21st century, and email technology is advanced enough to help you save time by cutting down on manual tasks.
Instead of handling email after it arrives in your inbox, you can adjust your email provider’s settings to automatically route email before it hits your inbox, immediately reducing the amount of clutter. Take some time to review your mailboxes and create routing rules that will auto-move, auto-archive, auto-delete, or even auto-reply to messages for you. These rules will help your team focus only on client emails that need actual human intervention.
7. Save pre-written email responses to FAQs
With an increase in email volume, you’re going to see a lot of the same types of questions from your clients. Whether it’s questions about the second round of PPP loans, or about the approaching tax deadline, there’s no reason why you or your team should write the same response over and over.
If you can anticipate common questions that you know clients are going to ask, then you should definitely write and save a response that everyone in your firm can use. You can make these responses accessible in a shared document, or even as an email template. By doing so, your team will be able to send prompt responses, while significantly cutting down on email overload.
Avoid email overload for good
These seven tips are especially helpful during the tax season, but they can be put into practice all year long. By planning ahead, and investing in these proven productivity tricks, your team can effectively avoid inbox anxiety and email overload through April 15 and beyond.