It’s okay, you can say it. You hate email. It’s a giant time suck, it’s ineffective, and its constant disruptions make you feel chained to your desk. It’s enough to make anyone scream or, at least, hide from their email forever. But you don’t have to feel bad for not hitting “inbox zero” any more. You can turn it around and make your email work for you again, because that’s what your email was designed to do. Don’t’ let it be the boss!
Below are a few tips to help small business owners take back control of their inboxes. I promise you can do it.
Master Your Email Program: Whether you have your small business email set up in Gmail or you’re using an application like Thunderbird or Microsoft Outlook, to get the most from your email you should know what it’s capable of. What shortcuts exist, what hacks can you make, what plugins can you use to supercharge things? It may seem silly, but taking the time to become fluent in your email program’s individual features can help you save time, organize better, and get things out faster.
For example, if you’re one of the many small business owners using Gmail, are you using these eight shortcuts to speed through the email creation process?
- C = Compose
- R = Reply
- A = Reply All
- F = Forward
- E = Archive
- L = Label
- V = Move to folder
- S = Star
Are you taking advantage of Canned Responses in Google Labs so you can stop answering the same questions twice or re-writing the same information about your return policy? If you’re not or if you didn’t even know these things existed, take an hour today to check out your email application’s bells and whistles. You may be surprised what’s in there.
Schedule Your Email Checking: A fantastic way to stay eternally distracted and accomplish nothing is to keep your email open throughout the day so you’re constantly seeing the little notifier pop up when a new message hits your inbox. Because once you know it’s there, you HAVE to check it. It disrupts what you’re doing, puts another task on your plate, and throws a wrench in your plan for that hour. Instead, close down your email and only check when you’re ready to deal with it. For me, I check my email an hour into my day, right after lunch and before I’m about to head out the door. Sometimes that means people may be waiting a few hours to get a response, but it also means I’m able to focus on my day without letting email take it over.
Use Filters: Your inbox if filled with a variety of messages. There are invoices, contact forms, employee questions, vendor problems, newsletters, personal emails, Groupon offers, social networking messages, etc. To better manage the flow of your inbox, set up filters to automatically sort so you can better deal with them. Creating filters allows you to take back control and make your email work for you again. It also means all your emails from your crazy family will be banished to a folder you don’t have to see if you don’t want to.
Use Extensions & Apps: Depending on the program and/or browser that you use, you’ll be able to download different email applications to help you hack the way you work. These applications can be as simple has Google’s People Widget which will give you more information about the people you’re communicating with or something like TextExpander which saves time by eliminating keystrokes. These simple add-ons can help you automate common tasks so you’re not wasting time on them.
Read & Respond: Once you open an email, do something with it. Do not collect emails like bad habits. If you can respond to the message in less than five minutes, respond to it and move on. If you can delegate the answer to someone else, forward the email off. If you don’t have time or you’re not prepared to deal with it, use an application like Boomerang or NudgeMail to re-send you the email when you do have time for it. What you don’t want to do is use your inbox as a storage facility.
Worth noting: You can also use Boomerang to schedule emails you’ve already written. For example, if you’re working at 2am, you can opt to have that email sent at 8am to not expose everyone to your crazy work habits.
Use Your Subject Line: When you’re sending emails, do your part to help out the person on the other end. Before you hit send, look at your subject line and ask yourself if it’s as clear and helpful as it can be. Does it read “Favor” or does it read “Need Help With Proposal By Friday”? The first subject line is easy to ignore and offers no fast information. The latter lets them know what to expect and states your deadline. Which would you rather receive?
Below are just a few pieces of advice that have helped me get better control of my email. What’s worked for you? Anything others swear by that simply hasn’t worked? Let me know.