If you’re reading this, you are most likely a small business owner or
employee and you feel that you have too many messages in your inbox.
You’re feeling overwhelmed by it all, and you’re afraid that the sheer
mass of your small business communications might be affecting your
ability to do your job, which is probably not centered on email, or the
productivity involved in answering it. Eventually, you actually need to
do the things you talk about in your emails, the things that you
started your small business to do. But at the same time, there are
important things that come at you in your email, and you just can’t
ignore them. There are customer orders, requests for support, business
development requests, questions from your employees, and all manner of
other necessary tasks. So, how do you manage this volume of email while
still getting everything else done in the limited time you have every
Through the course of this article, you’ll learn some email
productivity tips that should help you feel more in control of your
small business communications, and you’ll feel less like there’s
something lurking in your inbox that will ambush you later when it has
gone undone for too long. Much of this information on email
productivity comes from the David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”
program, Merlin Mann’s “Inbox Zero” system, as well as the book Take Back Your Life! Using Microsoft Outlook 2007 to Get Organized and Stay Organized.
If any of this article gives you hope on the future on your small
business communications, I highly recommend you do further reading, and
there are some links at the end of this to help you take the next steps
on increasing your email productivity.
Better Email Productivity Equates to the Treasured Zero Inbox State
To be honest, if you get a lot of email, you probably won’t ever
get to a Zero Inbox state, but it should be your goal. Email is merely
a medium that enhances small business communications. It is the one
place that people use to try to interact with you. But you can’t let it
control your life or your small business. So, try to only check email
every couple of hours or more. And when you do check email – make sure
you have some time to give your email the appropriate attention. You
don’t want your Inbox to become your filing system for all of your
small business communications, orders, and whatnot because that is what
leads to the feeling of being overwhelmed and out of control. When you
have mastered your inbox (and subsequently your email productivity),
you will be able to spend more time thinking about growing your small
business with communications that streamline processes, or about taking
that vacation with your family, or whatever else it is you haven’t had
time to think about.
So, when you do open your Inbox – and you are faced with a
bunch of new emails – what do you do? Everything in your inbox should
be something you have not yet decided what action to take, and you
should only have to read (and process) each email one time. You need to
“Process to Zero,” or as closely as you can. What is “processing” in
this context? It is the “so what” for each thread you open, where you
convert each message into an action in order to reach greater email
productivity. What does this email mean to you, and what is it
ultimately asking of you? Based on the answer to that question, you
need to do one of four things to each email you process:
3. Defer (i.e. read it later)
4. Do (response will take longer than two minutes, but you still need to do it)
So, how do you know which to do?
Taking Action to Streamline Small Business Communications
Delete/Archive: If there is no definable action (or you have
already taken the necessary action on any small business communications
you’ve received), you need to delete the email or archive it if the
content is something you know you will need to refer to later on (I put
them into an “@Archive” folder in Outlook 2007, because that keeps that
folder at the top of my folders list and easy to see later). In any
case, deleting the vast majority of emails that serve no future purpose
will significantly boost your email productivity, allowing you to move
on to other tasks.
Delegate: If there is a definable action that someone else needs
to take, delegate the action to someone else by forwarding it to them
and clearly spelling out what action you expect them to take. Then, you
need to either delete or archive that email, because it no longer
belongs in your Inbox.
Defer: If the email requires a task that will take longer than
two minutes – you need to defer the action (and its associated email).
I do this by moving the email into an “@Action” folder. The most
important thing here is that you make sure that you get to the things
in the “@Action” folder in a reasonable amount of time. You can’t
forget about them and let them go undone, or you will stop trusting,
and then stop using, the system and be right back where you started.
Do: If the email contains an action that requires LESS than two
minutes to complete – you should just go ahead and do that action and
delete or archive the email so you get the item off your plate. You’ll
rack up a lot of “small victories” this way and feel more productive,
because you will actually be more productive when dealing with your
small business communications. Don’t say to yourself “I’ll just leave
this in my inbox and get to it later;” take the action immediately to
see your email productivity rise.
A couple of related email productivity tips from the Download Squad folks –
1. “If you don’t need to read it now, it shouldn’t be in your inbox.”
2. “If you’ve already responded to it, it shouldn’t be in your inbox.”
Remember, you want to minimize the number of times you have to
read the same email. Make a decision about it the first time you read
it, and just get it over with. It doesn’t help you at all to leave it
in your inbox just so you have to come back and do the same thinking
all over again. That’s a waste of your time and a serious drain on your
overall email productivity.
Hopefully, these small business communications tips have gotten
you started down the path of a cleaner inbox and a cleaner mind. The
less stuff you have to keep track of in your head, the more you can use
your head for productive thinking, like how to grow your small
Increasing Email Productivity References
The following links provide more information on small business communications.
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