One of my clients recently upgraded his email server. In reviewing their needs, the IT consultant said no email server would help them unless they learned how to properly manage their email inbox. He went on to say that poor email management is one of the biggest distractions for many small businesses. So why did he come down so hard on them? They had no folders, no filters and over 44,000 emails in their inboxes. They were the poster children for inefficiency.
Email is one of the preferred methods of communication in business today. It’s imperative for business owners to, once and for all, take control of their inboxes. Don’t waste another day improperly running a critical component of your company. Here are seven suggestions to organizing your inbox and increasing your overall productivity.
1. Dedicate the time needed to find a solution. Email is something you use every single day. If there's a problem, either with the server, how your employees are using it or your own management of it, don’t procrastinate. Set time aside to find a solution.
2. Separate business from personal emails. Just as you have separate checking accounts for business and personal finances, you should also have separate email addresses for each account. One or two family email chains about a summer reunion can really clog up your inbox. If you didn’t initially separate them, then get a new personal email address today and send an email from your business account asking friends and family to send all personal emails to your new address.
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3. Have a backup plan in place. What would you do if your email server went down for an extended period of time? How would you communicate with your customers, vendors, salespeople? Don't wait for the worst-case scenario to happen. Prepare in advance: One option is to copy your list of contacts and put them on another email provider's system. Whatever you do, do something: Downtime is lost revenue.
4. Set up a company email policy. If your company’s email system needs overhauling, invite the key decision makers to a meeting to weigh in on the setup (e.g., folders, processes, rules). Also discuss your expectations regarding response times to clients and separating personal and business emails.
5. Set personal rules to follow. Don’t read the same email twice. Once you open it, do something with it. The inbox should be zeroed out when you finish your day. Carve out several times during the day (15 to 20 minutes) where you can go through the bulk of your emails.
6. Set smartphone rules for reading emails. Smartphones allow you to read your emails whenever and wherever. That’s good and bad. It shortens the response time to clients and colleagues, but it can also waste valuable time that you need for other priorities. Set ground rules about reading emails on your smartphone.
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7. Create folders. A key to effectively managing your inbox, and keeping it at zero, is having a place to put emails you'll need to reference in the future. These eight folders are essential for corralling all my emails.
- Unsubscribe: This folder is for emails you no longer wish to receive (such as newsletters and notifications). Once or twice a week, go through the folder and click on the unsubscribe button (which should be found at the bottom of most commercial emails). Note: If you don't recognize the sender or think it's spam, do NOT unsubscribe to it. You're better off deleting the email than letting spammers know you read their trash.
- Reading: Google alerts and newsletters are great sources of information for your business. Create a reading folder for them and any other reading material sent to you. Then, during non-prime time hours, go through the folder, read the articles and take action on them.
- Business Development: This folder holds emails regarding proposals and correspondence with potential clients and partners. Create sub-folders if necessary.
- Today: These emails are a priority and require your attention today. It’s a good folder if you have an assistant monitoring your emails, who can separate your email in terms of priority based on your parameters. Another option is to keep these emails in your inbox and flag them as important.
- This Week: I use this folder to hold any email correspondence for meetings/events/calls that I have this week.
- Clients/Customers: Sub-folders for each client allows you to review messages from various people in chronological order, by subject or by person.
- Office: A folder that holds your receipts, travel itineraries and information on back-office operations.
- Miscellaneous: Because everyone needs a folder to hold emails that just can’t go anywhere else.
If you struggle with effectively managing your inbox, then take time now to do something about it. Follow the suggestions above and, before you know it, you'll see measurable improvements in time management, efficiency and productivity … and who doesn’t want that?
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