Gain Control of Your Inbox

Email overload graphic


By Stephanie Sievers | Associate Editor

Tips and solutions to help you gain control of your inbox once and for all.

You know the scenario. You step out for a 45-minute meeting only to find 40 new emails waiting in your inbox when you return. How do you weed out the junk, process the high priority messages and organize what you need to keep without consuming too much of your day?

For many Illinois REALTORS® the key is organization, organization, organization.

“I don’t keep my email as a to-do list. I’m either reading it, putting it in a file or answering it,” said REALTOR® Sandy Andry, a broker with RE/MAX Town and Country in Aurora.

That means not allowing emails to pile up in her inbox. Andry manages the inflow by processing the emails and then filing them in designated folders or labels. She makes a folder for each buyer and seller she is working with, identifying buyers by their last name and listings by the property address. Every time a relevant email comes through, she adds it to the appropriate folder.

“I try to do my negotiations through email so I have a written record of it,” she said.

Andry has used folders for two years and finds it to be an effective way to track and save the correspondence for every transaction. She’s even set up her voicemails to come through to her email as an audio file so that she can file those away. When the transaction is finished, she archives them in her “past seller” or “past buyer” folders.

REALTOR® Jan McNulty, a broker associate with RE/MAX Suburban in Mt. Prospect, is another proponent of email folders as they give her a way to organize conversations, documents and even text messages for each transaction. She also emails herself copies of the signed contract, home inspection and legal letters, which she burns to a CD and gives to her buyers and sellers at closing.

“I use my (Microsoft) Outlook email like it is my filing cabinet,” she said. “If there is ever a question of what I did with a client, it’s in my Outlook.”

Set limits

The idea of limiting the amount of time you spend reviewing and processing email each day may strike fear in the hearts of many real estate professionals, but REALTOR® Maria Radwan, managing broker with Baird & Warner’s Palatine office, said that restricting it to three times a day works for her.

“Our industry, as a whole, is very reactive, not proactive when it comes to keeping track of daily tasks,” she said. “Learn how to say no. What’s on your calendar? What’s on your task (list)? Be true to that.”

Radwan recommends checking email three times a day: 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and again at 2:30 p.m.

Why 2:30 p.m. and not later in the day?

Radwan says that by checking your email at that point in the afternoon agents still have time to take action whether it is to pull a market analysis, schedule an evening showing or just reach someone before the end of the work day.

“There are so many emails that come at you today, that if you don’t (set limits) all you will be doing is checking your email,” Radwan said.

But that doesn’t mean you should be ignoring your email the rest of the day. Agents get online leads from Zillow or other sources that they don’t want to miss during the day. Radwan suggests setting up different alerts for different lead sources so agents can stay connected. 

Get some assistance

With about 70 percent of his business coming from online leads, REALTOR® Matt Laricy, managing broker and partner with Americorp in Chicago, is leery of limiting how many times he checks his email or with adding too many blocks to his spam filters.

Instead he has chosen to hire an assistant to help monitor incoming emails and prioritize them. Laricy credits much of his success with his prompt and personal response to email leads. His assistant makes the process easier by weeding out the junk email.

Laricy also has a goal of keeping his inbox as clean as possible, ideally at no more than one page. He too uses folders to organize and store his email as most of his correspondence is electronic.

“Filing has been one of the great things in my life,” he said. “I literally start sweating and stressing out when the inbox is too full.” 

Productivity Tips

Productivity expert Stever Robbins, also known as The Get-It-Done Guy from the Quick and Dirty Tips podcast series and e-newsletters, offers tips for controlling your email.

Some may not work for every REALTOR® but finding a few to incorporate could help you get a better handle on your email.

  1. Turn off the auto-notify on your email. Constantly getting pop-up notifications every time a new email hits your inbox can put a dent in your productivity. Robbins recommends limiting the number of times you check your email each day, otherwise you are continually at the mercy of whoever is emailing you.
  2. Do not process your email in the order that it arrives. Scan the subject lines and the names of the people sending the email so you can prioritize.
  3. Give a definitive deadline when collaborating on a project through email. Unlike a direct conversation, email doesn’t always force a person to be immediate or answer the question being posed. Keep a project moving forward by being assertive and setting a deadline such as, “I need input on X. If I don’t hear from you by this date, I will assume this answer and keep moving forward.”
  4. If an email exchange goes on for more than three emails, stop and pick up the phone. Most people type slower than they talk so the time spent writing yet another email  response is sometimes better spent talking directly.

    “The more time you spend typing, the less time you’re spending face-to-face and the less you’re building trust with people.”- Stever Robbins

  5. Use folders or labels if it helps you organize, but don’t file emails away without taking action first. Don’t letthings you still need to deal with pile up in folders where who knows if you can ever find them again,” Robbins said. He doesn’t use folders but instead saves everything to a single archive folder in his Gmail account and then searches by name or topic.
  6. Unsubscribe from everything and even better, create a separate email account to funnel subscriptions, junk mail and other low priority correspondence. Give that email address out at stores or for  subscriptions. Check it when you are in the mood to do so. “People don’t understand but even the process of going through and deciding what to respond to takes actual effort,” Robbins said.
  7. Limit the amount of time you spend processing email. Set a timer to keep yourself on track. “If you spend 30 minutes a day on email, that’s three weeks a year. If you wonder where your vacation time is going, chances are good it’s going to email,” he said.


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Illinois REALTOR®

A few more tips to consider:

  • If you are getting your email on multiple devices (your laptop, tablet and smartphone) don’t waste time deleting them from each device. REALTOR® Sandy Andry might read her incoming emails from her office computer, iPhone or iPad, but she only deletes them from her office computer since her mobile devices only display the last 50 messages anyway.
  • Find an email system that works for you. Some swear by Web-based email systems such as Google Gmail for its search and storage capabilities (REALTOR® Matt Laricy uses Google Apps for Business) but others prefer to continue using Microsoft Outlook, Entourage or another email system.
  • Make the emails you do send more effective by taking the time to re-read them for proofing and spelling before you hit send, REALTOR® Maria Radwan says.  Mistaken meanings and unnecessary errors can slow things down and make your email conversations less effective.