In an average day, Cris Sgrott-Wheedleton, founder of Organizing Maniacs, a professional organizing company, gets between 200 and 300 emails, which is not uncommon for the average small business owner. “Granted, most of them are not important,” she says, “but it still takes time to delete all of them.”
How much time? The McKinsey Global Institute, a management consulting firm, revealed in a recent study that the average person spends 13 hours per week reading, answering, sorting, and deleting email. As a small business owner, that’s 13 hours that could be better spent working on and promoting your company. Here are some helpful tips on how to get a handle on email:
Schedule specific times for email
“The biggest challenge for many people is that they don’t schedule specific times of the day to process email,” says Stephanie Shalofsky, a New York City-based professional organizer and productivity consultant. “This means they are constantly on email, which doesn’t leave sufficient time for other tasks.” She recommends processing emails at specific intervals during the day. “That way, you can quickly respond to new messages that can be dealt with in two minutes or less, identify new tasks that need to be tackled and add them to your to-do list, and delete or file messages that don’t require any further action.”
Create a goal for yourself
Many business owners would love to see their in-box completely empty. “I personally believe that having an empty or near empty (less than 10 messages) inbox is an excellent goal as it gives me a feeling of control over my email,” Shalofsky says. “Then I know for certain that I am aware of all important tasks that need to be addressed and can then schedule time to do so.”
Sgrott-Wheedleton takes a different approach. “Zero inbox is a nice goal to have, however, not a realistic one for most small business owners,” she says. Instead, she recommends that business owners view their in-box more of as a to-do list, filled with action items. For instance, using an in-box as a to-do list allows you to keep all your tasks organized in one location, Sgrott-Wheedleton says.
“This method means I’m less likely to miss something that went into a folder that will never be opened again,” she says. “On any given day, there will be 20 action messages in my inbox. I have to work on them in the order of priority, and within my available time constraint. Sometimes, I can take care of all 20 and then I can move to yesterday’s lingering items, and the day before and so forth.” Consistency is key to this approach, she says. If you are going to adopt it, commit to working on your to-do list every business day.
Know when enough is enough
“In order to keep the number of e-mails in your inbox at a manageable level, determine the maximum number of e-mails that you will allow to collect in the inbox,” Shalofsky says. “Once this quantity has collected, your priority task for the day will be processing your emails so that you are back in control.” Determining what that ideal number is requires some measure of self-knowledge, as well as the awareness of how long it takes you to deal with a typical email. If you know it takes you five minutes to answer an email, and you want to limit your email management sessions to a half hour, that’s a maximum of six emails that can be addressed.
Use technology to make life simple
There are apps, such as Unroll Me for iPhone and Android devices, that identify and list all the email newsletters you’re subscribed to. It takes only one click to unsubscribe from the newsletters you don’t want, and all the newsletters you do want are collected in a single, easy to read location. Another option is to hire a virtual assistant to handle email management for you. Even if all they do is delete junk mail, that’s still a major time-saver.