If you think e-mail overload isn’t a problem for small businesses, think again. According to productivity experts, small businesses spend 40% of their day sifting through e-mail. What’s more, on average business owners get around 200 e-mails per day and more than half isn’t even important.
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“About one third of their day is in that inbox finding e-mail, responding to e-mail, storing it and working in it,” says Mike Song, chief executive of Get Control, a time management and e-mail productivity training company. “It’s one of the biggest time wasters.”
While it’s tempting to read and respond to every e-mail that comes in, there are ways to handle your inbox without spending hours wasting precious time. From putting on filters to creating folders, here’s four ways to avoid falling victim to e-mail overload.
No. 1: Turn on the filters
Let’s face it, not every e-mail a small business owner gets is important or needs immediate attention. Instead of opening those low priority e-mails, turn on the filter that sends them to a folder you can check once or twice a month.
“The vast majority of e-mail software allows you to filter low priority senders,” says Song. By turning on the filter feature you won’t be tempted to read them, which can waste time.
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If you think you need more than a simple filtering tool, there’s cloud based services like Sanebox that will automatically filter unimportant e-mail and send a daily e-mail summarizing it. Sanebox’s e-mail service costs $5 a month.
“With everything in life you have too much work and not enough time, so you have to prioritize things that need to get done right away and things that can wait. And the same should apply to e-mail,” says Dmitri Lenovo, vice president of growth at SaneBox.
No. 2: Send less e-mail
E-mail is all about convenience, but unfortunately the more e-mail you send the more e-mail you are apt to receive. In order to reduce the amount of mail waiting in your inbox every morning, Song says to simply send less.
“Choose carefully who you want to communicate with,” says Song. “Avoid low priority conversations.” That means refraining from hitting reply all to that joke e-mail or sending out a blast e-mail every time you see something clever or funny online.
“Those low priority responses waste a lot of time,” says Song. “The less you generate the less there is to reply to.”
Another way to generate less e-mail is to refrain from signing up for things that will result in e-mails. Avoid joining every new daily deal web site, says Leonov, or signing up for things that will continually send you e-mail daily, weekly, or monthly.
No. 3: Don’t open e-mail unless you plan to respond
E-mail overload can be avoided if you use your inbox efficiently and strategically. One way to be efficient, according to Leonov, is to avoid opening an e-mail unless you are prepared to take action.
“If you don’t do that you end up looking at the same e-mail twice. It’s a time waster,” he says. Leonov says it’s better to spend the time dealing with the e-mail when you open it instead of reading it and going back to it later.
“Every time you open an e-mail you waste seconds and they add up,” he says.
No. 4: Create folders
No one wants to open their inbox and see more than a thousand e-mails sitting in there. After all, searching for a specific one can be a humongous task if you have hundreds if not thousands of e-mails in your inbox. That’s why Song says to create folders.
“Business owners tend to have 57 e-mail folders and 57 different document folders, and they are a mess,” says Song. Instead of ending up in this situation, he says to create a client folder, an output folder, a team folder and an administrative folder. Anything dealing with employees would go in the team folder while any customer related e-mails would go in the client folder.
Having separate folders is an effective way to manage an unruly inbox and is something that many small business owners overlook, says Song.
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