10 Ways to Avoid Insanity and Automate Your Email

Posted on 21 June, 2016 in Productivity / 23 Comments

10 Ways to Avoid Insanity and Automate Email

You all know I’m enthusiastically on the non-stop train to automation station. Automating processes and tasks is essential to running a one woman shop, because it’s not like you have a full-time assistant.

And one of the places it’s most useful? That damn inbox that won’t stop bringing in new things.

#InboxZero is an elusive beast we chase after. And if you achieve it, you have another new email within minutes and you feel decrowned, like when you played Pretty Pretty Princess in college…I mean preschool.

But while I used to spend an hour or two per day going through all my inboxes (omg that feels embarrassing to say now!), I now spend that much time on it per week.

While I’m a lot smarter with my email habits in general now (I go home 4 times per year, I can unsubscribe from local restaurant newsletters…), a big part of that huge decrease in time is because of automation.

Talking about all the different ways you can automate email would take a few hours, but here are the apps and features that can help you do so.

Start automating your inbox with 7 free Gmail rules for solo business owners – download them now!

10 Apps to Avoid Email Insanity

10 Ways to Avoid Insanity and Automate Email - Plus a free cheat sheet for solopreneurs

1. Gmail rules

The automatic rules and filters built-in to emails clients are pretty underutilized and pretty powerful. More powerful than you’d think.

Between sending automatic responses, taking care of filtering and labeling, and getting rid of things completely, rules can handle most of your inbox triage for you.

Recommended: how to create an email triage system that works by Inbox Ninja

I’ve set up autofilters recently with Gmail, Outlook and Apple Mail, and you can get really advanced with all of them. Even Outlook, which I hated otherwise haha. That covers the basic clients I can think of, and of course more advanced clients would reasonably have more advanced filters.

Automate your inbox with Gmail rules and filters

Start automating your inbox with 7 free Gmail rules for solo business owners – download them now!

2. Boomerang

Boomerang combines scheduling and automation in one awesome Gmail plugin. First of all, you can schedule emails for later. Sooo necessary for night owls like me. No matter how easy it gets to schedule emails, I’ll always accidentally send something at 2am at least once per month.

You can also “snooze” emails until later with one click, making the possibility of #InboxZero at least plausible.

Think of how many messages in your inbox are there to be referenced later. Your inbox (and life!) would be less cluttered if that guest post draft went out of sight and out of mind until the week you actually need to edit it.

Finally (yep, more), you can set up automated reminders to follow up with people if you haven’t heard back in a certain amount of time. I’m horrible with follow-up, and I know I’m not the only one.

We should all use Boomerang more – I’d have so many more guest posts, joint webinars, and more by now lol.

3. Unroll.me

Those good email habits I mentioned earlier? Those are like 72% made possible by Unroll.me. The rest, I’m taking full credit for.

It’s basically a support mechanism for newsletter addicts.

Okay. Really, it’s more like a mass unsubscribe button and a newsletter digest. Those are the two big features.

When you first sign up for your account – and anytime you choose afterward – you can view a list of all the senders of mass emails and newsletters in your inbox and one-click unsubscribe from any that are just taking up space.

Use Unroll.me to clean up the newsletters in your inbox

The second big thing is your rollup – and I’m not talking the fruity snacks from the 90s. You can choose which newsletters and mailing lists are included. They’ll automatically skip your inbox and go to a special folder, then be delivered all at once in a daily rollup.

40 newsletter memberships and 1 new email per day, no matter how many lists send out something? Yaaasss.

4. Canned Responses

Templates, in general, kick ass. They’re just so useful. Whether you’re sending marketing outreach or creating a new graphic, templates let you automate parts of whatever you can’t automate completely.

There are a lot of fancy tools that let you create email templates – CRMs, outreach tools, customer service platforms, etc. And those tools are great. But whenever I create an email template in one of those, I still duplicate it in good ole Canned Responses.

Recommended: how to set up canned responses in Gmail by Amy Lynn Andrews

Canned Responses is a simple Gmail Labs add-on that lets you use templates in the regular web client. Again, most clients have a template or snippets feature, which probably includes the one you use. If not, even the free CRMs and outreach tools often do. I just like Gmail’s website.

5. Typeform

Death to the generic contact form! Rah!

But for real, only asking for a name, email, and message just creates more work for yourself. And for the person contacting you. So why use them?

Use Typeform to automate people contacting you

Customized forms that ask questions – the questions you actually need to know – are the way to rock. For example, the Typeform on my hire me page asks questions specific to the custom packages I create for clients.

Recommended: the 5 pages every freelancer should have on their website by Shutterstock

Save time on back-and-forth emails with people contacting you by getting the answers you need up front. Typeform is my favorite tool for this since they’re just so damn good-looking and you can embed them on your own website.

6. MailChimp

Once you’ve created fancy forms and email scripts, you need to put them to use. If you want to grow your email list and take advantage of email marketing, you need an email marketing provider.

I love MailChimp because it’s easy enough for beginners but also has great intermediate/advanced features, and easy to integrate, automate, etc.

It won’t work for all solopreneurs, depending on your own preferences, the types of emails you send, how you build your list, stuff like that. But it works for a lot of us, and taking full advantage of it can bring magical email workflows, auto-responses, and more to your sending processes.

7. Trello (or any project management tool)

Now we’re getting into the tools that help you with your inbox by staying out of your inbox.

Use Trello to automate project management

First up’s your project management tool – Trello is my type A drug of choice. I’ve used it for legit everything I can figure out a way to, from tracking recipes I both like and can do without effing up, to client processes and assignments. But I’ll wax poetic about that another day.

Recommended: 3 ways Trello can organize your solopreneur biz by One Woman Shop

One great way Trello and other project management tools come in handy is with email notifications. And mobile push notifications, if you have their app installed.

When you’re working with someone, from a client to a joint venture webinar partner, you can rely on the email about you moving your assigned card to the “Done” list, instead of taking the time to send them an email saying “it’s done.” And notifications can be grouped into daily digests pretty frequently, cutting down on overall email.

8. Slack

Slack – oh my love for Slack, now let’s talk about waxing poetic… – is another awesome way to cut down on email. For my clients that use Slack very heavily, I literally haven’t emailed with them since getting the job and getting added to the Slack team.

You can also create a private Slack team for yourself to serve as a sort of personal dashboard with emails, notifications, and more from different bots and integrations.

I like to call mine a personal productivity dashboard, but I actually waste a lot of time in it. I’ve connected the RSS feeds for too many good blogs…

Speaking of which, that’s just one example of how Slack keeps stuff out of your inbox.

I don’t subscribe to many blogs’ email lists anymore, going back to RSS instead. But while I may check Feedly with all blogs I read once per week or so, I’m in Slack constantly so I end up checking that a lot more often. So that’s where the blogs I want to read first, the top priority ones, get delivered to me now.

9. IFTTT

Automate and triage your inbox like a freaking superstar. IFTTT (“if this, then that”) lets you connect different apps and websites together to build your own automations, workflows, recipes, and integrations.

Yeah, it’s ridiculously powerful. And all free.

Connect it to your inbox along with the other apps you use to save time transferring information, automate parts of your email system, and have fun with IFTTT. 🙂

ifttt-gmail-to-todoist

Recommended: 8 IFTTT recipes to automate your solopreneur biz

10. Zapier

Want to hear something? There’s another app as awesome as IFTTT, maybe more so. It’s Zapier. I compare them because they’re super similar. But I like to call Zapier “IFTTT for business” or “IFTTT in a suit and tie.”

Recommended: saving time with IFTTT and Zapier by One Woman Shop

You can connect like 300 business apps to your inbox for different triggers and automations, and they even have an email parser to let you get really fancy.

Well, that’s 10 tools that will keep you from going insane in the biz brain (bet you never heard that unreleased Cypress Hill track). Which ones do you use? Leave additions in the comments.

Here are more productivity tips to grow your solopreneur biz!

  • Such a great post. Some of these I use and love (Boomerang, Typeform, Mailchimp), but I’ve been looking for a better project management platform than the one I use now, and Slack looks totally awesome!! I just might become a client. Do you get a referral fee for that :-)?

    • It’s totally free unless you’re a huge company with a ton of employees, so not even necessary! But you’re so sweet for asking! 🙂

  • As always, super helpful! Typeform is prob one of my favs on this list. I use it for new Client Inquiries, Client Agreements, and testimonials once I’ve wrapped up a project. IFTTT is on my to try list!

  • I feel like we are systems sisters! I’m almost always at inbox zero, even with a thriving business, all thanks to automation and prioritization.

    • Systems sisters – I LOVE IT! Haha I’m never at inbox zero despite being so anal about email. But I do try to reach “unread zero” every day.

  • JaQuette

    Thanks for the list, Brittany. I’m definitely always on the lookout for better ways to streamline my business, and you have some options I hadn’t heard of before. I LOVE slack, mailchimp and Asana, but I’ll look more into IFTTT and Zapier.

    J of JoyfullyJ.co

    • You’re welcome! IFTTT and Zapier are totally gamechanging because you can basically start building your own integrations between any connected apps. 🙂 They work great with Slack especially! I pipe almost all notifications through at team I created just for myself instead of getting emails or push notifications. 🙂

  • Great list! Did not know about Boomerang, I’m definitely underutilizing my email powers.

  • Um, did you know they’re not making Pretty Pretty Princess anymore??! I found out a few weeks ago when I wanted to buy it (you know…for a friend) and it’s like $100 on Amazon used. Bummer! Anyway, Love love love Boomerang! I need to check more into Slack and get more automated with Zapier. Thanks for the list!

    • I feel irrationally angry about this. I need to go through my parents’ basement this weekend… Haha and you’re welcome! Slack is awesome since it can be anything – I mean it’s like an IM app but I used it to create an analytics dashboard for my blog.

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  • Great post! I’m a fan of several of the options you mentioned, including Trello, Zapier, IFTTT and MailChimp.

    Another to add to the list is Sanebox (sanebox.com). I’ve been using this solution for years and its certainly live up to its name. Among other things, they provide intelligent filtering of emails at the server level (no need to install any software or create any filters) and you can cc or bcc something like 1hour@sanebox.com or 3days@sanbox.com and Sanebox will let you know if a response hasn’t been received in the specified time.

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  • Great recommendations. I recently started using Unroll.me. Also, Apple Mail has very useful mail rules and smart mailboxes. I created one smart mailbox that captures emails from previous recipients.

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  • Good post. There’s nothing quite as intrusive as email, and most interruptions are needless.

    A good tool to automate your Inbox is EmailPet (www.emailpet.com). It’s like IFTTT fro Email.

    • Oooh, I’ll have to look into that. Thanks for the suggestion!