Small Business Basics | Email – Inbox Management

One thing I have come up against a number of times during my career is the need for time management. How do you get everything you need to get done, without working all hours? I’m not an entrepreneur, but having worked at three leading US companies and start-ups too, I’ve seen things from both sides of the fence, as it were.

Some organisations use stand-alone task management software to help staff manage their time. This is both costly and unnecessary, in my opinion. I’m a big fan of task management. But having a dedicated task list system in place, even when used properly, still does not take care of my entire list of time management issues.

Most modern workers already have a task list; it’s called their email inbox. Businesses these days are slaves to email be it in desktop form or on their iPhone or BlackBerry. In fact, the first tasks I accomplish each day are those “assigned” to me via my email. This is important because my email box is largely made up of tasks assigned to me by people outside of the office such as clients and prospective clients. Even the most important internal tasks run secondary to the inbox! So how do you manage your inbox tasks effectively?

Fight the Flow

There is one, very simple and overlooked rule. Delete or archive your emails when completed.

Yes, really that is it. You’d be surprised at how often that one-step solution is often ignored in the midst of a busy day, but if you’re serious about beating the waves of email you get, you need to make it part of your daily routine.

This is how I work: every day I go through my inbox one email at a time. Firstly you must read the email and (assuming it’s not spam) then you must act accordingly. If it’s a question, hit reply and answer the question right then. If you need more information, and unless you don’t have immediate access to the information, go get what you need in order to reply. You want to get as many emails responded to as possible. Once you’ve replied delete (or archive) the email so you can move on to the next one.

If the email contains information that is needed for a new task or is for a task already in progress, then note the information into the appropriate task in your list, or if necessary, create a new task for yourself in your task list or diary. Once you’ve done that then you’re free to delete (or archive) the email and move on to the next one.

E-mail background

Action Stations

After you’ve gone through all your emails, the only ones that should be remaining are those that are still pending some kind of action. Maybe you need to reply but are waiting on some specific information that you don’t readily have. That’s fine to leave in your mailbox. By the end of each morning, the only emails that should remain in your inbox are those that still require action.

It takes a while to develop this into your day, because it’s just too easy to leave email unassigned.

On a personal note I can honestly say that there is little more positive than seeing I’ve reduced my inbox from hundreds to just a handful of emails before 9:30am. There is a nice feeling of accomplishment knowing that a big chunk of my daily tasks have been completed and I’m set up to tackle what might be heading my way with more ease.

David

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