I went to a conference recently, and the speaker asked the question “how many emails are currently in your inbox?” There were many people in the room that had thousands of emails; some had hundreds, and there were only two of us who answered none. So how can you make email work for you?
Your email inbox should be like the priority tray on your desk: empty at the end of each day, and I’m not joking!
Commit to your email program
Take a long look at your relationship with your email program. Are you happy with it? Does it meet your needs? Is it up to date?
You might not have a choice, but if you are planning an upgrade or thinking of setting up a home business, you need to spend the time thinking about this.
Most organisations use Microsoft Outlook; however, many are moving towards using cloud services such as Gmail so make sure you shop around and find the best service for you.
Take some training
Next, take the time to learn about using your email program properly. Most people just get by with the basic features, but there are so many other features that will benefit how you work once you know how to use them.
For example, you can set categories and colour code your emails. I use this system to colour code each email related to a particular project. I also use tags for due dates to respond to emails as well as use rules to automatically move emails into certain folders.
Set up folders
Now set up folders to organise your emails. I would suggest setting up your email folders similarly to those on your hard drive. Start with a folder called clients, then have a folder for each client. Then a folder for projects that contains a folder for each project you are working on.
Below is an example of an email folder structure. Notice how these files are consistently categorised and named.
Schedule backups and archives
This is the time to schedule a backup of your e-mail. This can be done through the e-mail program, in the operating system, or with a separate application. Make sure that backups are stored in a separate location, like on a DVD or on a USB drive. Store them outside of your office.
Most e-mail programs support archiving; moving all of your e-mail out of the program into a separate folder. Typically, this is done once a year. Set this up now! If your e-mail program doesn’t support this, put a reminder in your calendar to do it at the end of every year.
Automate what you can
Next, set up automation wherever possible. Some ideas:
- Set up rules to move messages from particular people or organisations
- Microsoft Outlook features Quick Steps, which allow you to combine multiple actions into one clickable button and shortcut key. Take the time to learn about these, review the Quick Steps already configured, and configure your own if necessary
- Configure your junk e-mail/spam and phishing filters to move suspicious messages out of your inbox. Be sure to review your junk mail folder periodically
- Empty the recycle bin once a week
Use time-saving tools
Other e-mail time-saving tools that we like include:
- Dynamic search folders
- Assigning reminders and flags to e-mail messages
- Customisable alarms and reminders
- Creating calendar appointments and tasks from e-mail messages (simply drag it from your inbox onto the calendar or into the tasks folder)
- Color-coded categories
- Message grouping (by conversation, sender, or date, for example)
- Marking a message as complete to indicate that you have completed required actions
- Quick access to folders via a favourites pane
- Customisable navigation tools
- Address lists and contact groups
If you are not sure what your e-mail can do for you, pressing F1 typically opens the help file. Take the time to look for easier, faster ways to perform common tasks.
Have any other time-saving tips for using email? Share in the comments below as I would love to hear about them.
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