Financial advisors face a dilemma: they need to digest a wide variety of general information while also keeping a lookout for important, actionable client communication.

As a channel for each of those tasks, email could be a lot better. Inboxes quickly become clogged with unwanted, unread emails. And, before you know it, your communication channel is choked off. Cluttered inboxes lead to inefficiency and delays. Technology created this mess, but technology can also help clean it up.

“Inbox zero” is a holy grail for most professionals. First coined by productivity speaker and author Merlin Mann, the term describes an inbox devoid of mail, with all outstanding tasks taken care of and all responses sent. For advisors with hundreds of unread mails haunting their computers, this goal may seem unattainable, but it is within your grasp.

As a concept, inbox zero has much in common with the organizational process called Getting Things Done, (GTD) created by organizational consultant David Allen. GTD focuses on clearing your desk and putting everything in the right place so that there’s nothing left on your mind to keep you up at night. When executed well, GTD and inbox zero should leave you with an empty email inbox and a clear mind.

Rules of email management

The path to email nirvana involves processing your email according to a strict set of rules. The first rule is that you touch it only once. Don’t read an email and then leave it sitting in your inbox; instead, do one of several things with it.

The first option is to delete or archive the message immediately if it isn’t important. In many cases, you’ll be able to tell whether you even need to read it just by seeing who sent it and looking at the subject line. You may get to the point at which you can create rules for emails with certain senders or words in the subject line to delete or archive the emails automatically without showing them to you.

Some of the most dastardly emails are ones that you may want – at some point, but not now. These are email newsletters: emails that don’t demand any task or response, but which you feel you should read.

Sometimes known as “grey mail,” newsletters are not spam, because typically you subscribe to them of your own free will. But grey mail still can inundate your inbox and cause clutter. A web service ( will categorize your subscription emails and let you unsubscribe from the ones you no longer want – with a single click. The service will send you the rest in a single daily digest, thus unblocking your email pipes.

If an email isn’t destined for the digital garbage, the second step is to decide whether the message needs a response or contains a task. David Allen has a two-minute rule for inbox items: if you can deal with it in two minutes, do so immediately.

There are several techniques to help you respond to emails quickly and efficiently. The first is to keep your answers short. Everyone is busy and, these days, a quick but polite yes or no is acceptable.

If you find yourself sending the same answers a lot of the time, then canned responses, with pre-written answers, can be an excellent way to free up time. Google Inc.’s Gmail has a canned responses feature in its “Labs” section, while Microsoft Corp.’s Outlook enables users to create custom signatures with various responses inside.

Saving for later

If an email isn’t something you can handle immediately, you can defer it. There are various ways of doing this while keeping your inbox free. You may want to turn an email into an appointment, which Outlook lets you do by dragging and dropping emails onto your calendar. Gmail has an “add to calendar” option that usually will appear when a date is detected within an email message.

Each of these systems also lets you convert an email into a task. In Outlook, you can drag a message to the Tasks bar. Many task-management systems, such as Trello ( also allow you to forward emails to a custom email address; those messages then are turned into tasks.

Another option is to delegate an email. Is it something that someone else needs to deal with? If so, forward that email immediately.

In Outlook, delegating or deferring may take multiple steps. Using the product’s “Quick Steps” feature, you can create automated tasks that do all of these steps at once. You might want to forward a task to a specific team member, marking it “urgent” and attaching a document template, for example.

Finally, you can store emails that don’t need action but which you may want to refer to later. You can label these or put them in a folder. Alternatively, you could forward them to a safe and secure cloud-based document storage system, but beware of sending sensitive client data outside your organization.

Several of the more popular email programs have GTD add-ins that make applying these techniques to your email easier to do. Gmail has Active Inbox (, while Outlook has Jello Dashboard ( among others.

“Dirt movers” for email

The above tools will be useful as you plow through your bloated inbox. But there are others that are like industrial dirt movers for email, and will help you cut an overwhelming inbox down to size quickly.

Sanebox ( is an add-in for most email systems, including Gmail, Microsoft Exchange and Outlook, that you can train to remember what kinds of emails are important to you. This tool highlights those, then sends you a list of other, less important emails that then can be sent to you in a digest at the end of the day.

You can train Sanebox to send annoying messages to a “black hole” folder, never to be seen again. Another neat feature is Sanebox’s ability to place emails in a “snooze” folder, keeping those messages out of your inbox until convenient for you to deal with.

Mailstrom ( is another system with many of the same features as Sanebox. This tool includes email filtering for subscribers.

Armed with these tools, you should be able to grapple with the most monstrous of inboxes and bring it to heel. After decluttering one of your main communications channels, you’ll feel a lot lighter.

© 2015 Investment Executive. All rights reserved.