Everyone who receives a high volume of email is keen on taming the beast. Some strategies work well for managing personal inboxes while others are best suited to business accounts. We asked two local business owners for tips on dealing with the daily email bombardment.
Use subfolders to prioritize your incoming email: Both Mark Capell of CMIT Solutions and Linda Fava of Snow Peak Designs recommend using subfolders to manage correspondence. Most email programs enable users to guide incoming emails to specified folders. “I like using rules to send specific emails to folders that I have created,” says Capell. Depending on your circumstances, you might choose to route emails from your boss or project team members to designated folders. Another possibility is setting up a folder labeled “important emails.” “You set up the rule by the sender’s email address,” says Fava. “When you’re ready to check your email, you address the important emails first and then go to your regular inbox when you have time.” Capell offers this vital caveat: “Don’t forget to keep track of the folder labeled ‘Boss.’ ”
Color-code your world: “Most people are very visual,” says Fava. “Use flags to prioritize your incoming emails. You can either color-code emails by priority or, when it comes to Outlook, specify which emails need a follow-up. You can also set a date in Outlook when you want to deal with specific emails. They will come up on your To-do list for that particular day.”
Check your inbox at established intervals: Prioritizing your workflow is a matter of personal preference. “It certainly depends on if your world revolves around your email or not,” says Capell. “You could decide to check your inbox three times a day: Nine in the morning, shortly after lunch, and four in the afternoon. The rest of your time is dedicated to work or play.”
Pick the low-hanging fruit first: “As a business owner, I tend to get the easy emails out of the way first so that I can concentrate on the things that have the best return on investment,” says Capell. “If it is something that needs a simple response, I deal with it once and then get rid of the email.”
Use a little self-control: Ignore the visual and audio reminders that you’ve got mail. “It’s the hardest thing to do,”Fava admits. “It’s tempting to check your email every time the little envelope shows up at the bottom of your computer screen. The same thing goes with the audible ‘ding’ when you get a new email.” Fava suggests turning off the sound on your computer and ignoring the visual reminders, “unless you’re expecting something really important.”
Don’t use your mailbox as a storage unit: “Sometimes I come across clients with 5,000 emails stored in their inbox,” says Capell. “Outlook will run much more efficiently if you archive your old emails in a separate folder that is still accessible from within Outlook. The program has become better over the years in terms of the capacity for storing data, but with older versions of Outlook, it’s easy to crash it if you don’t clean out your email. ”
Declutter your inbox: “I have clients that need to save certain emails for a long time period,” says Fava. “I suggest that they save their emails outside of the Outlook email client in separate folders on their computer.” You can also create PDFs of important emails and store them on your hard drive.
Back up your email database: It is a good idea to back up your email database regularly, whether you’re using a PC or Mac platform. “The biggest mistake is not backing up your Outlook data file,” says Capell. “Depending on which version of Outlook you’re using, the data is stored in odd places, so it can be hard to find your database file.” Worst-case scenario: “If something happens to your computer, all your email files are gone.”
Read more on managing email communications in our “Taming the Email Monster” article.