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Guest columnist: 4 ways to tame your email

ShopTalk’s Building Your Business columnist Jennie Wong.
ShopTalk’s Building Your Business columnist Jennie Wong.

Are you drowning in a sea of email? Is your inbox overflowing to the point where you can’t find the important stuff anymore? It’s great to be in demand, but business owners have to take control of their email to avoid letting other people’s requests take over their day.

Here are four productive – and creative – ways to get a handle on the never-ending email messages.

Organize your mind, folders

Stacey Randall is an adjunct professor at Queens University and a time efficiency expert. Randall advises a mindset shift: “Emails are not love letters; they are tasks. So don’t confuse the number of emails you receive with how much you are loved or needed.”

Randall also recommends using folders to organize emails, as well as a technique she calls “one and done.”

“I use a system where I touch an email only once. I can’t possibly respond to all the email I receive daily, and in reality most don’t need a same-day response. So when I receive an email, I either 1) answer it, 2) delete it, 3) file it, 4) delegate it, or 5) move it to my Outlook task list. When I move an email to the task list, I move it out of the inbox. This is how I hit a “zero inbox” every day, and I am in control of my emails.”

Go on a spam diet

Of course, you can also start at the top of the funnel and reduce the amount of junk email you receive in the first place.

Ashleigh White, a Charlotte-based internal communications consultant for Liberty Mutual has found a useful tool that’s allowed her to do this.

“I spent an hour at the beginning of the year using Unroll.me, which combines subscriptions and removes you from any (email mail lists) you no longer wish to receive,” she said. “It’s lightened my inbox by more than 50 percent.”

Set expectations

On the other end of the equation, you can manage expectations for your response time.

Tracie Ohonme, co-founder of the nonprofit Samaritan’s Feet in Charlotte, has an auto-reply that informs people of her “email hours,” which are 7 a.m., 11 a.m., and 3 p.m.

Consider email alternatives

A more radical solution might be to move off email altogether. Abigail Miressi of Tech Talent South communicates with her team using an entirely different platform.

“Slack is an amazing alternative. It’s a free platform for you and your team to organize, communicate and store your thoughts. You can specify ‘channels’ of discussion, have private group conversations, as well direct messages. It’s a great way to cut down on the ‘one-question’ emails.”

Whichever of these techniques you try, remember that email, like many things, is a good servant but a bad master.

Jennie Wong, Ph.D. is a Charlotte-based executive coach.

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