You don’t have email management issues. Your inbox is almost always empty. You’re good at reviewing emails, making quick decisions, and responding immediately. Email is never a distraction for you. You even have systems in place to handle the information contained in emails.
Sounds nice, right?
It’s no secret that communication tools cause the most distraction from getting work done. Email can be the worst offender because it’s the primary way most people reach out.
So, it’s time to get better at email management. Here’s how to do that and what to watch out for.
Quick Tips for Better Email Management
If you don’t like email or can’t manage it quickly and effectively, turn it off. Use calendar blocking to schedule time in your day to check your email and only check it. Or, use a built-in feature like pause inbox that allows you to pause all email activity except at certain times.
Either way, when you’re finished checking your email, it should be at inbox zero every time. That will protect you from the fear of opening it again at the next scheduled time. Think of leaving read email in your inbox as if you were leaving opened and read mail in your postal box. It’s just a cluttered mess you must dig through to find things.
If you have hundreds of emails in your inbox, you might have to declare bankruptcy and start again. If it is older than 2 weeks, you probably aren’t going to look at it again anyway. And, if they needed it immediately, they’ll hit you up again.
Do One of These 5 Action Options for Each Email:
- Read/respond – Read and absorb the information shared and/or quickly reply back to the person with a quick response. And then archive it.
- Calendar It – For items that take more time, block time on your calendar for when you can research or think about the response. Then respond to the person and let them know when you’ll be back in touch. (This step prevents them from filling up your inbox with follow-ups.) It’s OK to leave this email in your inbox until you can respond. Or follow the filing plan in Step 3.
- File – Store the email in a structured folder system. Or follow our practice of storing the information in the tool you would use to reference it. Storing the information in appropriate locations avoids searching through email to find the information. Examples of this are your CRM and your project management tool. Make sure the email finds its way to the proper location. Better yet, make sure you communicate from the CRM and project management tool to avoid the emails coming into your email box.
- Junk / Spam – Mark it as junk, spam, or even better, unsubscribe to it altogether if it is from a reputable source that you can trust not to make things worse.
- Delete – No action needed; delete it. (It’s OK!)
If you are using email to manage your projects and fear you will miss out on the most urgent information from your clients, read 6 Project Management Strategies for Software Developers. And then, stop it. Email is not an appropriate project management tool.
3 Challenges Affecting Email Management
- You are tired of the task at hand, and you need a break. Take your breaks in more productive ways. Get up and stretch! Go outside and see the sun. Call your mom. Socially engage other humans. But don’t use the fact you need a break as an excuse to check email (or any social media!).
- You take more time in making decisions and/or want/need to read through everything entirely before deciding how to handle it. Challenge yourself to move through decision-making faster by limiting the time you allot to it. Sometimes, just by limiting your time, you’re able to push through. In a webinar by Carol Williams of Efficient Productivity Systems, she suggests a fun Gmail game you can play to help clean out Gmail using the Chrome browser. This game/tool especially might help if you need to catch up to inbox zero. (BTW, Carol is a productivity coach, and we recommended her if you need some coaching in that area.)
- Fear of deleting can be a struggle unless you’re a minimalist. If this is your challenge, set up a folder to file and store “unnecessary” emails rather than deleting them. Or, archive your email instead of deleting it. Either way, this step keeps emails from lingering in your inbox.
These quick tips and tricks can help you get better at managing your email. For additional resources, visit the complete guide to successful small business operations. Or reach out to the BTC team to customize operational success for you and your business.