There's no getting around it -- most of us suffer from email overload. Business messages come in too quickly to deal with, resulting in cluttered inboxes that inspire fear and anxiety.
But there are potential solutions. The following tools can help tame even the most out-of-control inboxes and make you more productive:
No matter what industry you're in, chances are you wind up sending the same types of emails week after week. Whether it's a message introducing your company to a prospective customer or follow-up communication to help move a sale forward, such emails can eat up an entrepreneur's precious time.
Instead of searching your "sent mail" archive and then copying and modifying each message, consider a template program such as Yesware. Free for individual users and $19 a month for teams, Yesware and other email template programs let you set up standard snippets of text that can be integrated into emails quickly using simple commands. Yesware also can be incorporated into your customer relationship management program.
Related: Three Tips for Saving Time on Email
Task creation and email tracking
If you manage your "to do" list from within your email system, there's always a chance that relevant items will get buried in your folders, untagged and forgotten forever. You don't necessarily need to add an external "to do" management program to your arsenal of business productivity tools. Instead, consider supplementing your email's task management system with a free program such as meinKopp or Zendio, which costs $9.95 per month.
Both programs can be integrated into an existing inbox to provide additional functionality beyond the simple "red flag" system that's standard in Microsoft Outlook and other email programs. Zendio, for instance, allows you to quickly transfer action items from email to your "to do" list and prevent them from getting lost in your inbox clutter.
While managing task items within your email inbox is important, how you handle the message you've decided to file away can be just as critical. If you aren't sure why, just ask the frazzled colleague in your office who has just spent hours trying to track down a missing, but mission critical, message.
The standard email archiving tools that are integrated into programs such as Microsoft Outlook can be useful but they usually don't provide all the features most entrepreneurs need to manage messages related to ongoing projects. For that, consider an external email archiving tool such as Mail Steward.
Related: Is Technology Killing Your Productivity?
With packages starting at $24.95, Mail Steward allows you to do two important things:
- Securely store large amounts of data to prevent file security concerns, and
- Easily search your email archive for past messages, based on a variety of criteria.
Although most email providers come with spam control installed, these standard tools often fail to filter out all unwanted messages. If junk is slipping past your inbox's default spam scripts, consider a program such as the Mac-based Spam Sieve. Its advanced technology learns and adapts to your email usage, so that it's able to block nearly all junk messages while creating a whitelist that prevents messages from colleagues and clients from being marked as spam. It costs $30 as a one-time investment.
Email processing methodology
All the tools in the world can't help you manage email effectively if you don't first have a methodology in place for processing incoming messages. For example, if you mark every email you receive as a "to do" list item, it doesn't matter how sophisticated your task creation tools are. You've simply added another level of complexity to an already inefficient process.
Before adding any of these tools to your inbox, put a system in place to process incoming messages responsibly. Most professionals adopt a system in which they assign an action to every email they receive immediately. Instead of reading a message and deciding how to follow up on it later, organized people decide immediately whether an action should be completed right away, delegated to someone else or filed away for future reference.
One helpful resource for implementing such a system is David Allen's Getting Things Done blog. This site offers plenty of helpful tips and tricks on how to process incoming email messages responsibly in order to help you take control of your business email.