The Inbox Escape Plan Part 3 – The Follow Up

In my previous post I talked a little about the importance of the follow up. I used to think that sending a follow up email was rude because I was bugging the person I emailed. I mean obviously my initial email was as important to them as it was to me (please note my extreme sarcasm). Over this past year I have learned that follow up emails are not rude and at times are necessary to help get things done.

So how do you make sure you follow up on important emails? You could try and remember every single email that you sent but chances are no matter how great your memory is, you are going to forget one or two emails. Also storing information like this in your memory is not the best use of your mental strength. As this blog post from LifeHacker points out, the end goal of “productivity” is to spend less time doing the things you have to do so you have more time for the things you want to do. Sorry but remembering what emails require a follow up are not that important. Below is the workflow that I use to keep track of my follow ups.  

The Follow Up Label

To track the emails that I want to follow up on I created a follow up label in my Gmail account. Any time I send an email that requires a follow up I quickly label it with the follow up label. Tagging the email with this label automatically creates a follow up list that I can use to keep track of which emails I have not got a reply from. Once I get a reply from the recipient I will either remove the label if the conversation is over or leave it if the email requires an important future reply. This entire process only takes a few seconds but can have a huge impact on your response rate. For more on labels in Gmail please click here.

Set Aside Time to Check the Follow Up List

Creating a list is one thing. Checking the list is another. In my calendar I have a weekly event scheduled that reminds me to check my follow up list. I decided to create a weekly reminder instead of a daily reminder to allow recipients the opportunity to respond before I follow up with them. If I have not heard back from you within a week it’s a sign to me that I need to send a quick nudge to get a reply. Creating an event in my calendar has also helped me build the habit of checking my follow up list.

Be Polite

When composing your follow up email it’s important to remain polite. I know our instinct is to get angry because we feel that the person is avoiding us on purpose. Instead of getting angry I would encourage you to assume positive intent. The more positive you are with your follow up the more likely you are to get a response.

Now does this system work 100% of the time? Of course not but it has increased the number of responses I get to emails. There are times that I have had to let go of some emails because I sent a few follow ups and got no response. In situations like this you may want to rethink your communication strategy and choose a different medium.


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