When I first started blogging, I was easily able to write new articles, comment on other blogs, manage my social media clients, and answer emails, all while enjoying a cup of coffee when my daughter was napping.
Somewhere along the way, email started to consume my life. It seemed like it was taking me hours upon hours each day to make a dent in my inbox.
No matter if you're a blogger, small business owner, or direct sales consultant, as your business grows, email will become an overwhelming presence in your day to day routine. In fact, when I talk to small business owners, email overload seems to be an all too common thread.
Here are some ways to manage your inbox, save time, and conquer email overload.
Creating an email schedule
If you keep your email open all day long, every time you get a new email, you'll be distracted from what you're doing at the time. Letting email distract you all day long is a huge time waster, not to mention that it is controlling how you work.
Schedule one to three times each day to answer emails, when your allotted time is up, close it down. To keep your clients in the loop, communicate with them, and let them know what your hours are for answering emails. You can do this by adding an auto-responder or by noting them in your email signature and on your contact page.
One reason our inboxes become inundated with emails is that we don't have the proper organizational system in place. I have more than 20 folders for keeping track of messages. Start by creating a follow-up folder, a hold folder, and an archive folder. Having these three folders in place will help you to clear out your inbox and manage your messages more effectively. You can create a variety of folders to meet your needs.
I got this strategy from a post that Chris Brogan wrote about email management (although now I can't find the article). It basically states that, if an email will take two minutes or less to answer, answer it and get it out of your inbox. If an email will take more than two minutes to answer, file it in your follow-up folder. Just be sure to follow up.
How much time do you spend deleting unwanted emails from subscriptions that you've outgrown, no longer need, or have been automatically been signed up for? Take a minute (or 15), go through your newsletter subscriptions, and unsubscribe yourself. Most companies have made the process easy, and it takes just a few seconds. If you must keep the subscription, set up email filters so the email is placed in a reading folder for later.
Don't worry about crafting the perfect reply; just keep your emails concise. Along with this, remember to craft a descriptive subject line that will help the individual determine what your email is about. (This will help with getting quicker replies, too.)
Example: "Question — About Advertising Prices." If you need to explain something in detail, where there could easily be a miscommunication, pick up the phone and give the individual a call. Sometimes email isn't the best tool for the job.
No matter what your business, there will most likely be questions that you get asked over and over again. There are a couple of ways to solve this problem. You can create a FAQ (frequently asked questions) section on your website. You can also craft a template of responses that can be easily copied and pasted into the body if an email. By taking some time on the front end, you can save yourself loads of time on the back end.
Slowing down to read
Often we are in such a hurry that we end up skimming emails and missing important details. Slow down, and read the email in its entirety. Many times just by taking a few extra minutes to read thoroughly, we can clear up misunderstandings, reply with a more focused answer, and save time by following directions.
With any good plan, it will take a few weeks to make these changes a habit. Once you start taking control of your email, you will notice an increase in your productivity.
What tips do you have for managing your email?
Holly Reisem Hanna is the founder of The Work at Home Woman, an award-winning blog dedicated to helping women and moms fulfill their dreams of working from home or becoming self-employed. A version of this article first appeared on TheWorkAtHomeWoman.com.