One of the most common challenges for small business owners is balancing the need to get a lot accomplished in what never seems like enough time. We are a frequently over-scheduled bunch, and most of us could benefit from some extra time, or at least more productive use of the time we have.
When it comes to time management, figuring out how to use time more productively is often a challenge. A good place to start is email management; this is one area that tops the list of time-killers for many small business owners.
Because email is an ongoing form of communication, and we don't have complete control over the incoming flow, we need to work on improving our productivity in how we receive, organize, reply to and even think about email. The tips below will help you create a system for managing your email in a way that supports productivity instead of eating away at it.
- Turn off notifications. Email tends to come in at all times of the day and night, so it is vital that you control how the flow of incoming messages fits into your day. Turn off new message notifications on both your computer and smartphone to prevent constant distractions and disruptions to your schedule, and check for mail when it's convenient for you.
- Decide how to use your inbox. There are many different philosophies when it comes to managing your email inbox. You can use your inbox as a catchall, limit it to only high-priority messages, or make it a working task list. The key is to pick one purpose for your inbox and stick with it.
- Create email whitelists and blacklists. Most email clients and email providers allow users to make lists of safe addresses to ensure those messages get through, while blacklisting, or blocking, what you consider spam addresses. Take time to update these lists frequently to keep your incoming email clean.
- Set a timer and batch process. Some small business owners benefit from having pockets of time in their day just for email. If this works for you, set aside a specific amount of time during the day to respond to messages, move action items to your task list, delete junk and get an at-a-glance idea of what needs your attention next.
- Use rules to automate the process. To streamline the email management process even further, use rules in your email client that sort, flag, move and organize your messages. While it will take some time to create rules that support the way you use email, once you have them created, you can cut down on a significant part of your email processing time.
- Get a head start from your smartphone. Many small business owners have smartphones so they can stay in touch and on top of work, even when they're out of the office. If you frequently check email on your mobile device, you can save a significant amount of time by reading and starting to process messages while you're mobile. Even if you just make it a habit to delete junk and messages you don't need to save, you can benefit from having a streamlined inbox when you get back to the office.
- If you don't read it, unsubscribe! Email newsletters and other email marketing messages can be a great way to stay connected to clients, colleagues, partners and other businesses you are interested in, but these messages can quickly pile up. If you have not read a particular recurring mailing in several issues, stop your subscription. Limiting email newsletters and other automated messages to only those you regularly read can be an easy way to reduce the bulk in your inbox.