We’ve all done it: opened our inbox at 8 am just to check a few emails before getting on a 10 am conference call. Suddenly a text awakes us from our email comma asking “Aren’t you getting on this call?” Wow! It’s 10 am already! How does it happen? One thing leads to another. Rabbit holes open up and we go down them. Before we realize it, we’ve lost 2 hours in our inboxes.
Email is one of the most common work day time sinks that we fall prey to.
You may feel stuck between a rock and a hard place by your deluge of emails. But you don’t have to. Answering emails is important, but so are your business responsibilities. There are ways to manage all of your emails without allowing them to overwhelming you.
After talking to several business owners, presidents and CEOs, we’ve learned some of the methods they’ve used to take control of their email.
- Make email management a scheduled event.
Pick a specific time(s) of the day (i.e. first thing in the morning and then just after lunch) to check your email. Do it then and only then to prevent the potential for being sucked in to your messages amidst the work you should be doing.
- Limit the time you spend on email.
Set your email sessions to end at a specific time. You may have to set an alert to tell you when to stop. Don’t let your morning or lunchtime email management sessions go on for more time than you can afford to spend on it.
- Touch each email once and only once.
This is a paper management theory that is very applicable to email. It’s sometimes called the “Four Ds”. When you read an email, you have four (and only four) choices: Do it, Delegate it, Delay it or Dump it. Of course, if you choose Delay it, place the email in your Save for Later folder so you haven’t wasted your time reading it the first time. The goal is keeping your basic Inbox free of emails that have not been managed in one of these four ways.
- Train your parents.
If you get lots of emails from parents inquiring about information that is on your website, remind them that the information they seeking – and more – is available on your website. Don’t just answer the question or they will keep emailing you for answers. Train them to use the resources you’ve created for them. Answer their important questions that may deal with injury, illness or family crisis.
- Train your staff.
Subject lines can make your email management easier. Ask your staff to help with this by communicating their needs adequately in their email subject lines (i.e., Immediate Response Needed, Critical Decision, Parental Situation, Budget Question). By doing this your employees will get important responses from you more quickly and you can feel comfortable that you can identify and deal with the critical issues from your staff.
- Close your email loops.
If there are areas of your business that you delegate to your managers and directors, make sure that you close the corresponding email loops by doing two things. Give the email contacts you deal with for those areas the new email contact for their questions and make sure that the employee you delegate to also makes contact and opens dialogue with their new contacts.
- Use the tools in your email application.
Make sure you have filters set up in your email inbox to direct spam and junk mail topics to those folders. Use rules to automatically direct emails from specific key people to a folder created for them. This will help you ensure that you don’t miss information and give you a good historical reference of your communications with them.
It’s surprising how stressful unwieldy email can be. It can cause you to feel uninformed, behind and inadequate. Using the methods above will help you to move past the stress and get on top of everything so that you’re no longer wondering what awaits you in your inbox. You can relax a little and be a better owner and business person.