One of the biggest distractions when running an online business of any type is email. Many business owners keep their email open all day and check it every single time the little noise goes off or the icon pops up telling them they have a new email.
Just like the old days of an inbox on your desk, your email inbox can quickly become piled high with things you need to handle. Sorting it all into the right places may make it much easier to handle and get you back to an uncluttered business mind.
Many business owners just accept the mess their inbox has become and never do anything about it. However, email hording isn’t going to help you become more successful. There are ways to make sure you don’t have to feel like checking and replying to emails takes up your entire day. Here are some tips to unclutter your email inbox and get back to a focused business mind.
Create a System
Books, such as Getting Things Done by David Allen, provide tricks and tips on how to become more productive. These types of books seem to concentrate on dealing with emails at some point. When you have a system for processing your emails in place, it becomes much easier and less of a distraction.
The simplest system may only include four different choices whenever an email comes in, such as: archive, delete, reply or create a task. If this simple of a system works for you, it may be perfect to help clean up your email inbox and get you back to a focused business mind.
Along with setting up a system for handling incoming email, it’s smart to choose a few specific times per day to deal with email. Having your email program option all day long is distraction and even the smallest distraction can throw off your focus. It’s better to get into the habit of processing emails a few times a day instead of all day long.
Choosing Times to Process Emails
Many experts will tell you that you should avoid checking email and social media at the beginning of your day. It can become a long distraction and keep you from more pressing projects. For many business owners, the best times to check email will be after the first work session of the morning (maybe 2-3 hours into the day) and then again in the afternoon. You shouldn’t need more than 2-3 times a day to process emails and it shouldn’t be something you feel obligated to do all day long.
An example of a plan for processing emails might include setting a time around 11am to process emails for the first time each day. Assuming you start your workday at 8am, this gives you 3 solid hours to focus on the most pressing projects for the day. Set aside 15 to 30 minutes to process emails, and then get back to your regular work.
With this same example in mind, you may set your second time for processing emails at 3pm. This gives you plenty of time in between to focus on work tasks and wait for replies from earlier emails. It’s also later in the day when you might be losing steam and focus.
Replying to Emails
The first option for most emails, when processing them, will be to reply to them. Not all emails will require a reply, but if it does, write a short response or use an already written reply to write back to the person emailing you. Take care of this immediately and move on to the next email.
Sometimes it can be hard to simply delete an email, but it’s necessary. Whether it’s a newsletter you signed up for or something else, if you won’t ready it, you should simply delete the email and move on. Many of the emails you receive probably aren’t worth your time and just take your focus away from more important things.
This also goes for your spam folder. While the occasional email will go into spam that doesn’t belong there, you should delete 99.9% of these emails. It’s best to just give the spam folder a quick scan for important emails and empty it. This will keep you from being distracted by catch subject lines and emails you don’t need.
Create a Task
If an email you receive requires a task to be completed, you can create a task from the email. This can be done in most email programs and can be used for emails requiring more time to respond or requiring you to actually perform a task. Any email that turns into a task should require you to add it to your schedule as actual work.
The final choice with every email is to archive it. This can be done as simply putting the email in an archive folder to hold onto it, such as an email with important sign up information or something you may need to reference later. It may also be used for client emails with a folder assigned for each client.
Unsubscribing from Lists
Once you have your system in place and your two or three times a day set up for checking your emails, it’s time to get rid of some of the junk. Anytime you have an email come through from a list you signed up for, ask yourself, do I actually read this newsletter? If you haven’t read it in months, it’s time to unsubscribe.
It will take a few weeks or months to unsubscribe from all the lists you don’t need filling your inbox with promotional emails, but the cleaner your inbox is, the more focused you can be. There’s nothing worse than hopping from an important project over to your email inbox only to find out it was a promotional spam email.
If you want to get back to work, become more productive and protect your business mind, it’s time to eliminate the inbox clutter.