I know. I know. You would much rather be in the studio, painting.
However, selling the art that you create involves a requisite amount of office time, and one of the places where this precious time can be most wasted is at your e-mail inbox.
Let me start by saying that, in the same way that you open your mail -- ("Did the check arrive?") -- and answer your phone every day, so also should you designate a daily visit to your e-mail inbox.
Think about it: when you write a business inquiring about their product, don't you expect an answer, and a timely one at that? And if you don't get one at all, how does that make you feel about the business?
It's established then: regularly checking your e-mail is a must, and a good minimum is once a business day. In managing Steve Henderson Fine Art, I am at the computer five days out of seven; Steve checks on Saturday; and on Sunday we shut down, allowing ourselves one day free from responsibilities other than reading the newspaper and taking a nap.
I always get a surge of pleasure seeing the Inbox bolded and a healthy number to the side. However, this pleasure rapidly diminishes if the majority of those messages are cyber junque: business flyers and postings trying to sell me something, forwarded jokes from friends and acquaintances, and invitations to play Farmville on Facebook.
This electronic detritus clutters up the mind along with the machine, and the first step toward making your daily desk time more efficient is to permanently get rid of these distractions.
If you do not already have a designated e-mail address for your business, do so now, and reserve it for business use only.
I use my business e-mail to interact with clients, art galleries, workshop participants, students, art organizations, publishing organizations and such -- relying on my personal e-mail account to handle Facebook contacts, Stumblers, Twitterers, friends and family, and any businesses that have to do with that personal life (such as the friendly folks at Upton Tea who keep me happily supplied with my favorite beverage).
By doing so, I ensure that when I open up my business e-mail, I am not wasting work time with the latest book offering from Amazon, movie suggestions from Netflix, or fabric sale teasers from Joanne's. "I'll just take a moment to follow this link" is the electronic equivalent of "I'll just pop into the espresso shop for a quick shot and a chat with whoever is there."
Now that you have a clean business account, work through your list with whatever system works for you -- chronologically, by date, most important first, easiest first -- whatever makes you purr. The important thing is to ensure that you address each and every message, because if it was important enough for someone to send it, then it is important enough for you to at least look at.
There is an old adage about paperwork that recommends touching each piece of paper just once -- either filing it, answering it, or throwing it away.
Now I'll be the first to admit that paperwork is my bane, and that I handle many a piece more than once, especially as I transfer an unwieldy stack of tree product from one side of my desk to another, then to the top of the cabinet, then to some interior drawer (and not, unfortunately, the overstuffed filing cabinet).
But e-mail is more immediate than much that comes from the postman, and the best way to keep on top of it is to follow the advice for handling paperwork, with a few modifications:
1) Open up the file and read it. If it's junk, delete it. If you never want to receive junk like this again, mark it as junk so that it will get in the right box next time.
2) Answer it.
3) If you can't answer it now but will do so later, mark it as unread (so that it stays highlighted) or categorize it with a color (blue for gallery interactions, purple for show notifications, etc). I prefer to do both.
4) Once you have answered something, send the original e-mail to a designated file in your inbox: Show Applications, Queries, Comments, Associations, you get the idea. I confess that I do this 50 percent of the time, which means that my general Inbox is still pretty messy, but the Search index in my Microsoft Outlook account is a good one, opening up drawers and rifling through the files in all sorts of locations.
Of all of your daily office activity, keeping on top of your e-mail is at the top of the list, but if you get into the habit of spending a focused, designated time to answering that day's mail, you will be able to pick up the paintbrush and do what you really want to be doing, guilt-free.
At least, that is, concerning your e-mail.