Ask business owners what tasks consume most of their time, and fielding emails is often among the top answers. One Harvard study of public-company CEOs’ time found that email consumed about 24% of their working hours—and keep in mind that these CEOs typically have assistants who screen emails for them.
Given how much time email saps, implementing strategies that make email less of a burden is a necessity. We asked business owners their top tip for reining in email. Here’s how they responded:
Designate times of day
For far too long, I wasted tons of time every day responding to emails. Every time a new one came in, I’d drop what I was doing and answer it, thinking that immediate replies would be better for business. It turns out, people will wait a decent amount of time, and responding lightning-fast really has very little effect on the bottom line. These days, I answer emails first thing in the morning and at the end of the workday, and I get far more accomplished during all of the hours in between.
—Dave Hermansen, co-creator, Store Coach, Meridian, Idaho
Turn off pop-up email notifications
There are two techniques that have helped me become more productive. The first is turning off the pop-up email alerts on my desktop and mobile devices. They are distracting and don’t allow me to focus on the task at hand. The second is creating rules for my inbox, so that a high percentage of my emails go into specific folders and not my general inbox.
—Beth Miller, founder, Executive Velocity, Atlanta
Maximize your email program’s search functions
Microsoft Outlook allows a user to sort all emails by “Sender,” with the option to expand or collapse all of a particular person’s or organization’s emails when clicking on their name. This is an enormously helpful function because it allows for a shortened and visible list of people to search through when looking for a particular email.
—David Reischer, CEO, LegalAdvice.com, New York City
Reduce the need for internal emails
To avoid being inundated with internal emails, our company does daily standup meetings for alignment and to summarize project status. A cross-department summary email is then distributed to capture the teams’ successes, priorities, upcoming milestones and critical action items. After we implemented these standup meetings, I saw an almost 50% reduction in personal email traffic, and a significant increase in employee engagement and satisfaction scores.
—Christopher Williams, CEO, Citadel Defense, San Diego
Batch responses together
As a book publisher, I manage about 10 projects at once. My authors often send me short emails with one question or idea. Rather than replying to each separately, I batch my answers in one larger reply to them each day. I also assign a two-letter code to each book project and use that in the subject line of each email I send, so I can tell at a glance which book it’s for.
—Jennifer Bright Reich, co-founder and CEO, Momosa Publishing, Allentown, Pennsylvania
Use an email-management tool
There’s one tool that’s worked wonders for me: Mixmax. It lets you archive emails and then reminds you by popping it back into your inbox whenever you tell it to. Need a response to your email? You can use the reminder feature to automatically pop the email back into your inbox for follow-up if you haven’t heard back. When you’re working late or in a region or country with a different time zone, you can also schedule emails to go out. Mixmax has been a real inbox—and headspace—saver for me.
—Kari DePhillips, owner, The Content Factory, Boston
Hire a virtual assistant
Since I receive over 500 emails per day, I decided to hire a virtual assistant through Upwork to help me manage them. She basically filters what I need to respond to and answers some of the easy emails for me. She also helps keep my calendar organized. The cost is pennies on the dollar—about $50 per week—for what I would pay for a real assistant, and it gives me back about two hours of my day.
—Gene Caballero, co-founder, GreenPal, Nashville, Tennessee
What’s your strategy for managing email? Let us know in the comments section below!Print this article