How to make your email work for you

How to make your email work for you

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 your 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!

Following is a simple 6 step plan to making your email work for you:

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 correctly. Most people just get by with the essential features, but there are so many others 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.

Schedule backup 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 a USB drive. Store them outside of your office.

Most e-mail programs also 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 on 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 allows 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 you can use are:

  • 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
  • Customizable navigation tools
  • Address lists and contact groups

If you’re not sure what your e-mail can do for you, pressing F1 typically opens the help file. Take the time to look for easier and faster ways to perform common tasks.

Have any other time-saving tips for using email? Share in the comments below.

Liza is a knowledge and collaboration tools manager by day and is the content manager and founder of The Content Hub. Liza is a technology specialist and loves passing on her knowledge about the latest technology and best practices to her audience and clients.

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