Whether you take a day off from the daily grind or you simply go to bed at night, when you come back, your email inbox is inevitably overflowing with hundreds of new messages waiting for you. It’s the downfall of most small business owners these days, especially in these times of COVID-19.
When you’re faced with hundreds of emails crowding your inbox, it’s sometimes difficult to figure out where to start untangling it all. But there are ways to help you through it.
More than a decade ago, a guy named Merlin Mann introduced this concept called “Inbox Zero”. “Inbox Zero” centered around the idea that you would reduce your inbox to zero messages and then maintain that through either delegating, responding, or creating action items for those emails.
When you have achieved “Inbox Zero” you are “all done”.
Trouble is, we’re now in 2020 and there’s a lot more heading into your inbox than you can handle. That’s led some people to reject the concept of “Inbox Zero” so much they’ve propelled themselves to “Inbox Infinity”, where email is simply ignored and people return to a simpler time of phone calls.
Obviously, neither of those work for small business owners, so you have to try something else.
Managing Your Inbox
You have to manage your inbox.
Do not allow your inbox to get so overwhelming that you cannot accomplish work. Don’t allow your inbox to dominate your workday.
Do this instead.
Block Out Time Just for Email
Even if it’s just 30 minutes first thing in the morning, block out time to deal with your email. Put it as a regular appointment on your calendar. This is the time that you sit down in front of your computer and delve into your inbox.
By blocking out time, you know that you don’t have a call scheduled or a meeting with a client. You can focus your complete attention on your email.
Take a Break from Email
If your job doesn’t require instant responses via email, ignore your inbox after you’ve done the initial check. Disable the notifications you receive every time you get a new message and dive back into work. Don’t check your email again for a few hours.
Studies have shown that responding to an email can be just as disruptive to a workday as answering a telephone call. What feels like a quick one-minute reply, actually breaks the work cycle and makes it more difficult to complete tasks.
In other words, multi-tasking doesn’t make it easier, it makes it harder. Set up times to check your email daily and use the rest of the time to bear down on your work.
Most of those emails can wait until lunch.
Delete the Spam
To help clear out the clutter, delete the spam first thing. Get rid of all the promotional offers and various spam emails from companies that you don’t care about. That will likely drastically lower the number of emails you have to deal with.
If you have a little extra time, unsubscribe from some of that junk mail. It won’t save you time today, but it will make a difference next week and next month. If you unsubscribe, you can save yourself the hassle of deleting the email every morning.
Over time, that will save you time too.
Save Some Items for Later
Once you’ve cleared out the spam, move the newsletters and industry subscriptions that you want to keep into a folder for later. If you pull them out of your inbox and put them into a folder to read later, then you’re less likely to get distracted as you’re trying to clear out the important emails.
The 4 D’s
The website ChateLaine suggests that you use the four D’s to keep yourself on task when it comes to email.
Do — If the email will only take a minute or two to deal with, then do it right away.
Delete — As stated above. If you don’t need it, delete it and if possible, unsubscribe so you don’t have to deal with it tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that.
Delegate — If it’s not something that you need to deal with, but you can forward it on to the person who can take care of it, then delegate it right away. It’s off your plate and on someone else’s now.
Defer — If it needs attention later, then put it into an action folder. Just make sure that you return to that folder daily, if not more.
Pick Up the Phone
Sometimes you can tell that an email is going to lead to a series of long emails. At that point, it might be easier for you and the client to just pick up the phone. A 10-minute conversation may save you 30 minutes of back and forth via email. Know how to read those situations to save yourself some email inbox pain.
All of these solutions won’t get you to “Inbox Zero”, but they may help you streamline your day so that you spend less time digging through your email and more time getting work done.
Good luck! For more great tips for entrepreneurs, be sure to check out our previous posts.
Written by Erika Towne