How to Use Templates to Keep Your Email Under Control

My email inbox can get a little hairy. I’ve got messages coming in from clients that I can’t afford to miss. I’ve got emails coming in from other freelancers who I need to coordinate with on projects which, if I don’t get to, I might mess up an entire project. And I’ve got hundreds of other emails that, while they don’t immediately impact my work, do need to be dealt with in some way or another. But if I spent all the time I needed to on responding to the emails I receive, I wouldn’t have any time left for client work in the first place!

I’ve taken some pretty extreme measures to help me manage my email better. I use Gmail, so I have filters set up that organize my emails before I ever see them. I’ve written out my priorities so that I don’t get sucked into handling email for hours on end. And I have templates for my out-going emails.

How Templates Can Help Freelancers with Clients

As a freelancer, I tend to take on the same types of projects fairly regularly. That means that quite a few of the emails that I exchange with my clients are very similar. Rather than re-writing them every time I start working with a new client, I’ve created templates of what I need to send out. In Gmail, it’s particularly simple to use the ‘canned response’ feature to create a whole list of templates, but cutting and pasting from a document you keep up to date is still significantly faster than writing out new emails all the time.

I have a standard template I use for just about every aspect of a new project, from when a prospective client asks for an estimate to a follow up email after the project is done. These aren’t form emails: I customize every single one before I send it out. But having a basic structure that I can follow when I’m sending something out makes my life easier. Even if I have to rewrite an email completely from what the template says, I’m still ahead of the game. The templates that I use the most often include:

  • An introductory email that breaks down the process of how I work
  • An estimate email that includes explanations of how I set my estimate
  • A check up email for those clients who don’t respond to an estimate within a few weeks
  • An email requesting the specific materials I need to do a project
  • An invoice email that explains the standard invoice that I use
  • An email requesting feedback or testimonials about completed projects

Because I’ve polished these templates, they also help me look more professional for my clients.

How Templates Can Clear Out Your Inbox

One of the reasons my inbox can get so swamped is that I’ve been associated with a lot of different projects over the years and my name still appears on most of the sites I’ve worked for. I get pitches for sites I haven’t written for in four years. I get requests to add advertising. I get all sorts of things that I have no business at all ever seeing. So, for each of these types of emails, I have a template that refers the sender to the correct person. I open an email, see that it’s not really for me, paste in the template and get it out of my inbox in a matter of seconds.

I have other templates for my email, of course–specific to the types of work I do and the other projects I have going at any other time. If you’re going to use templates to manage your email, they have to be specific to what you need. It can be a matter of just keeping an eye on what you’re seeing in your inbox and keeping a few notes. If you find yourself sending similar emails over and over again, that’s the sign that you need to create a template.

One approach that makes the templating process a bit easier is to start with a backlog of emails you’ve already sent. When you’ve got an afternoon, go through and look for some of the more common emails you send. Start with already sent emails for your templates–you can tweak them as you use them more and see what does (and doesn’t) work.

You do have to build the habit of actually using your templates. Sometimes it can seem easier to just start typing up a new email, rather than trying to go find a template. But if you just keep going with that approach, your templates will never even have a chance to help you clean out your email.

What About You?

How do you keep your email inbox organized?

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