Email is one of the most productivity-enhancing and at the same time, distracting innovations of our time. Wading through dozens, or even hundreds, of email messages daily can take hours of time away from the goals you have set yourself. Here are a few ideas to tame the email monster.
1. Turn Off Your Mail Indicator
Who can resist the signal that tells you “you’ve got mail”? It’s like someone is sending you a present that you must open right away. One of the biggest time wasters in a typical day is your immediate response to those incoming emails. Doing so interrupts your train of thought and creativity – it pauses your workflow. According to time management experts, it takes an average of eight minutes to recover from an interruption and return to the place you were before the disruption. Imagine how much your productivity is decreased by the constant intrusion of emails. So, consider turning off your email alert, or your speakers altogether.
If you are waiting for a specific email that is important and time sensitive, by all means turn that indicator on until you’ve received it, or check your email manually every fifteen minutes. Once you’ve dealt with it, turn it off and get on with your day.
2. Set Specific Email Review Times Each Day
You may be panicking at the thought of not looking at your email every time one arrives, but be assured you’ll get more done in a day if you set specific times each day when you review your messages. Two, three, or even four times a day – whatever works for you – schedule a half-hour or an hour to deal with your email. You can then get on with the rest of your tasks knowing those messages will be dealt with at the designated time. The bonus is you’ll be much more focused when you are dealing with them and over the course of a day you will actually spend less time doing this than if you addressed them individually as they came in.
3. Develop an Email File Folder System
Have you ever tried looking for a specific email in your inbox? You know you received it, remember reading it, but can’t for the life of you retrieve it from the mass of messages in your inbox. Email filing is the same as paper filing. It must be done on a regular basis or it will get out of control. Most email programs have the capacity for you to set up folders within your inbox so you can store messages in groups. Maybe it makes sense for you to create a file folder for every client, or maybe file your messages by the month or by subject. Just develop a system that allows you to easily find and retrieve what you’re looking for.
Create the folders and then move the email messages to the appropriate folders when you do your filing. This will save hours of frustration and enable you to find messages quickly and easily. Just as with paper filing, you’ll need to be diligent in cleaning those folders up from time to time. Thousands of messages in dozens of sub folders may slow your email browser down.
Another helpful email tool is setting your browser to automatically send messages from specific people directly to a designated folder. If you’ve set up folders for each customer, you can set your browser to send every email from that customer directly into their file folder. This saves a lot of time sorting through the clutter in your inbox. This feature is usually found in the Tools Menu and is often referred to as “Mail Rules”.
4. Use an Email Program That Works for You
Just because your computer comes with an email program as part of its operating system, doesn’t mean that it is the best program for you. There are many free and/or inexpensive email programs you can purchase or download from the Internet. If you’re not happy with the options, settings, or peripherals your email program offers, check out some other programs to find one that suits your operating style and your business.
5. Separate Personal and Business
Small business owners sometimes work from home and use the same computer for personal and business email. Make sure that your personal email is not interfering with your business. Although you may be tempted to respond to Grandma’s dinner invitation at 2:00 PM while you’re working on your cash flow projections, leave that for your personal time when your workday is done. Similarly, if you do have an office away from your home, minimize friends and family use of your business email address for personal messages. Business is business. Keep it that way and you won’t find yourself losing valuable productivity over issues that should be addressed outside work hours.
Email can be a wonderful communications tool if you use it wisely and efficiently. Implementing these simple ideas can give you greater control and increase efficiency.