Small business owners often receive hundreds of emails a day. With so much virtual correspondence, it’s no wonder that a recent McKinsey Global Institute survey found email the second-most time-consuming activity, next to “role-specific tasks.”
If business owners react to every ding of their inbox, they’ll get very little done. A cluttered, disorganized inbox will also slow you down. To increase productivity, follow these tips to gain control of your virtual correspondence:
1. Check less frequently
Marsha Egan, success strategist and CEO of The Egan Group, Inc., recommends that business owners check email five times a day: Morning, mid-morning, after lunch, mid-afternoon, and 20 minutes before leaving the office. “This gives you at least 90 minutes of uninterrupted work time between checking email,” she says. “If you can reduce email interruptions, you can recover up to an hour in productivity.”
Egan also suggests that business owners close their email browser in between checking email. The growing unread mail count and the dings and flashes that alert us of incoming mail can distract us from the task at hand.
When managing incoming messages, choose one of the following: Delete, Delegate, Do It, Defer it (to a specified time), or Don’t Delay. “The overriding D is Decide,” says Egan. “When you read an e-mail, make a decision. Take action right now, or defer it.” Egan suggests that business owners create an “Action” folder for emails that need attention.
3. Use folders sparingly
You need to save many emails for future reference. Organize these emails into folders or with labels, either by client or by project. Keep the headings broad. If you have one folder with 30 subfolders, will you remember where you filed an email three months from now? Any time spent thinking about folders and labels is time that could have been spent on growing and managing the business.
4. Get out of internal email
Many businesses have moved onto internal communications platforms such as Microsoft’s Yammer, Salesforce’s Chatter, Podio, Jive, and Slack. These platforms allow for group- or company-wide chat, direct messaging, video conferencing and other tools. The platforms eliminate problematic email threads and provide a streamlined approach for sharing and project collaboration.
5. Write concisely
Write an email that gets an immediate response and you’ll eliminate time-wasting follow-ups. Put the subject of the email—the question or request—in the first sentence. Save the background for later. “About 70 percent of people skim emails,” says Egan. “If you want someone to read your request, put it in the first line.”
One sure-fire way to reduce email is to simply pick up the phone. You may be able to schedule a meeting in a 30-second phone call instead of spending several minutes on multiple back-and-forth emails.
Tomorrow morning, remember to make a decision regarding all emails, organize wisely, and don’t obsess over the inbox. By following these simple strategies, you can reclaim hours in your day to put toward developing your small business.
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