The BizFilings blog covering business tips and trends.
Is Your Email Inbox Running Your Life?
Published on Sep 14, 2012
Read 'Is Your Email Inbox Running Your Life?' at 'Time to Start Up,' the small business blog by BizFilings.
By Adam Toren
Most of us remember the thrill of hearing “you’ve got mail” from our computer when we first signed up for an email account. These days, email can be a chore that eats up hours every day. While using email can save time, it can also take time away from more important work. It can be hard to strike a balance between being responsive and being constantly interrupted. It’s time to adjust your thinking and behavior to make email serve you rather than you serving it. Here are some ideas that may help.
Take an honest look at your subscriptions
How many of the newsletters, blogs and other email subscriptions do you actually open and read every week? Do they provide information that is useful or are they just a good distraction from your real work? Nothing is really free. Every one of these costs you time and effort. Keep the really valuable ones, Blogtrepreneur for example, and unsubscribe from the rest. If you miss them, you can always re-subscribe.
Get yourself off email groups
There are people who copy everyone on everything. Others love to share stories, photos or other things they find funny. Even if you delete these unopened they are junk email. Send these people a politely-worded email asking to be removed from their general list. And no, nothing bad will happen to you if you don’t forward a chain email to 14 of your friends.
Use email appropriately
Are you guilty of the copy-everyone pattern? Stop it. Do you send an email and expect an answer in an hour? You have a phone for that. Don’t expect a response in less than 24 hours unless you know the other person is as connected as you are. Never send an angry email, no matter how well deserved. At the very least it may lead to a flurry of emails that you have to address. Never put anything in an email that you wouldn’t want to see on CNN, or that you wouldn’t want your parents to read.
Only visit your inbox two or three times a day
I know this is hard to do. Every time you stop for a minute it’s so easy to take a look at the latest. But you need to think of email as the equivalent of a meeting – something that you schedule and limit your time on every day. If people notice the change in your responsiveness, explain what you’re doing. You’re still being responsive, but you’re not available through email all the time. Tell them to pick up the phone if they want a real-time answer.
Don’t use email for interactive discussions
Unless you need to document the exchange, anything that involves more than two or three interactive elements should be done on the phone. That will help eliminate those 10-email threads that run through your account. Spend the time to determine the best way to send a message – email, snail mail, phone or in person. Use the right method, not the easiest. This includes picking up the phone or setting up a meeting if someone sends you one of those emails that will require a lot of discussion.
Use the subject line as much as possible
Sometimes you or others don’t really need to open an email to get the message. For example, if a meeting is changed from 1 p.m. to 1:30, the subject line is all you need for that. Leave the email itself blank. Once people see what you’re doing, they’re likely to adopt the same pattern, allowing you to leave some emails unopened.
Take a close look at your time-eaters
Does answering certain types, or certain peoples’, emails seem to take an unreasonably long time? Take a few minutes to figure out why and what you can do to change that. Keep your responses as short as possible and develop a few standard responses for common emails. Pay attention to how much time email takes – much easier to do if you’re scheduling your email time.
By using one or more of these tactics, you may be able to put email in its place. It’s a great communication tool and it can be a time-saver, if you use it that way.