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E-mail panic - this is how you get rid of it

Do you wake up from a dream in which you found 320 new messages in your inbox?

If there was a ”most wanted” list of “time thieves” in the office, email would easily qualify on the list of the five worst “time thieves ”along with private surfing online during work hours. It's so easy to escape from work, you “just have to check your emails first.” I'm exactly the same. The mail and the internet is always there as a constant distraction.”What's going on?”,”I wonder what they're discussing on my favorite website right now”... These are really just excuses to avoid having to work with that you have in front you.

So how do you become more efficient with email and refuse to keep letting it steal your valuable time every day? Here are some tips:

1. If it's not your job to look through the inbox each and every 15 minutes because you run an online store or similar, make time for taking care of your e-mails two or three times per day. See if there's something important you need to answer now. If not - work on, keep doing what you really should be doing. Set aside a specific time each day to respond to emails, preferably during a time when you are not as productive. The reason is, of course, that emails distract you and send your thoughts in the opposite direction from where you are supposed to be. Responding to emails usually doesn’t require as much creativity.

2. When you go through your emails, start by removing everything that is rubbish so you only have the essential things left. Sometimes I get 200 emails a day and if I hadn't already decided which messages were important, I would have a heart attack within a month. There are many people who want things from us and we must make money to be able to stay in business. In other words, anything that generates money is always the first priority at work.
Cynical? No, it's purely about survival. If I gave other people all the time they want from me, I would never see my wife or my children who have first priority after 5 pm. each weekday and on weekends. What priorities do you have?

3. Decide how much time you should spend on replying to e-mails today. Sometimes you get a lot of messages and can be seated for a long time to take care of things. Then it's good to tell yourself ;”I'll shut this down at 3 pm. Then I'm done”.
There is something magical in determining how much time you have left doing certain things - they tend to be ready in time as soon as you force yourself to work within a special time limit. Superb! And you follow, of course, the priority list. Things that are not done, or lack priority, you can place in a folder you call the “Friday folder”. This is the file you can open on Friday afternoons - if you have time.

4. Take time to filter your emails. If you always receive email from certain people or senders, you can add features to messages directly into the correct folder, instead of filling up your inbox. Folders for sorting all messages will make it easier to find the right email later on.
You can create folders for different senders, so that each email lands directly in its own folder.
”Mom”, ”Brother”, “Annoying, but useful”- call the folder what you want, but let the emails go directly to a personal folder that you can open when you have time

5. You should do something with every message that you open. I tend to think of the messages as a ball on a football field. It should be kicked forward, not stay with me. Someone else will need to get the ball, otherwise we'll never score and win the game.

6. Cancel subscriptions to newsletters you don't read right away when you get them. Respectable senders have a link to a cancellation page.

7. Funny stories, support for Afghan women in distress - you must choose what you want in your mail (I think that it's better to send money to those in need through a charity organization instead of answering emails asking you to sign various petitions to numb your bad conscience). Tell those who send this stuff that you don't want it if their mails interrupt your work.

8. Be careful to start printing emails. I know people who do it because they want to read them later. The most common result is that instead of reading, people start building a large pile of printed messages that only contribute to the disorder on their desk.

9. Use auto-responder in a smart way. Normally, people use auto-responder only to announce that ”I'm on vacation and will return on June 26th”and that's good way to use it, but instead you should put information about where people who email you for answers can get the answers while you're away. Most of us get the same kind of questions from customers and if there is an answer to those questions that can be automated, it's good to use it of course. You can refer to your website, to a document that can be downloaded or refer to different persons in charge of specific matters - it all depends on what suits what you are working with best. When you check your emails, you can immediately see if there is something you need to take care of or if the writer probably already has found the answer to the question without the need to respond.

10. And finally - whenever you reply or compose an e-mail message, assume that everyone in the world can read it because it can be forwarded. Don't be rude, don't gossip or reveal things about yourself.  Don't respond angrily when angry. What has all this to do with saving time? Everything, emails can create very time consuming problems if you use it wrong.


About the author

Stefan Ekberg has worked in marketing for small business for 20 years and has written around 30 books on how small business owners can market themselves with limited resources. . In 2012 Stefan was nominated as Entrepreneur of the Year in Stockholm.

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"The 5 minute marketer" - the book
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