Telling the truth about SME life today

Ten tips to get your heaving inbox under control

1. Set times of the day when you will look at and deal with your email

Outside of these times, switch off your email and email notifications. For example, at three points in the day, dedicate 30 minutes to checking and actioning all your emails during that time.

2. Set up email rules

Mail rules are great for auto-sorting out your mail, before it arrives in your inbox. For example, you can set up a folder for each of your regular emails, for example monthly recurring invoices. Then set up the rule that puts the email into the right folder – for example, a monthly recurring invoice could go into a folder called “invoices to process”. You can even put follow up flags on these rules so that, for example, any email from your most important client was flagged to be dealt with by you that day.

3. Unsubscribe to newsletters

Unless you read the newsletter, unsubscribe to them. If you haven’t signed up to the newsletter, then mark as spam, and if you have the opportunity, report them as unsolicited email. Email marketing clients such as Constant Contact do allow you to report unsolicited email.

4. Use a good spam filter

Do invest in a good spam filter. Microsoft Outlook’s spam filter is good at giving you false positives, so aim to use an additional spam filter, so you can turn off Outlook’s in-built spam filter.

5. Action, file or delete immediately

Double or even triple handling email is what leads to personal inefficiency. Have as your mantra that you will only touch an email once.

6. Set limits on amount in inbox

Get into the personal discipline of never letting your inbox have more than 10 emails left at the end of the day.

7. Use flags to follow up

Use the follow up flags. If you have an email to action, mark it with a dated follow up flag. Then file it! In the morning, you can then sort all your emails by flags, and will get a list of the most urgent emails to be actioned.

8. Archive your email folders outside of the inbox folder

When you are creating folders to file your email into after actioning, Microsoft automatically suggests that you create sub-folders within your inbox. Make sure you create the folders outside of the inbox. This way, your computer performance won’t be affected by Microsoft constantly scanning all the emails in your inbox.

9. Set up favourite folders that you access regularly

In the “favourite folders” box on Microsoft Outlook, drag in the folders that you use regularly. This way, you’ll be able to quickly find your most popular folders. You can even give the folders a number, e.g. “1 – clients”, so you most frequently accessed folders will be at the top of the list, regardless of where they would come in true alphabetical order.

10. For twitter users…

Turn off all notifications for new followers and direct messages. Use a twitter client such as Tweetdeck to alert you to new direct messages and followers.

Heather Townsend, Britain’s queen of networking, is the founder of The Efficiency Coach, a company that helps professionals achieve better business results for less effort. Follow her Joined Up Networking blog for more useful tips and tricks. She has just been commissioned to write the FT Guide to Business Networking.


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