Email is notorious for eating up time. Here are some tactics you can use to manage your business email efficiently.

Implementing automatic expiry of received emails

Sometimes you receive an email that you might want to refer back to, but don’t want to keep forever. For example, if a business emails you with a special offer – perhaps 20% off stationery until the end of the month – then you might like to keep it in case you suddenly need to place an order (perhaps you have run out of paperclips!). A typical way of dealing with these would be to either leave them in your inbox and to go through periodically to tidy up the loose ends.

My strategy (and I haven’t seen this described elsewhere) is to create two folders – keep for one month and keep for one year – and move messages with time limits into one of these. Decent software will let you create rules to delete messages from these folders when they are older than their prescribed limits; otherwise, it’s simple to manually delete the old emails from these folders, knowing it is safe to do so.

Don't get distracted

Very few of the emails you receive demand an immediate action on your part. Most of them are informational, and can be safely set aside to be read at a time that is convenient to you rather than interrupting your work.

If possible, turn off the notifications you get when new email arrives. If you do still need this notification for certain types of email, turn it off for the rest. For example, I use GMail and have installed the GMail Notifier, which plays a sound and pops up a box every time I get a new email. However, this is only triggered by new emails arriving in the inbox, so I’ve set up GMail filters to bypass the inbox for the various mailing lists that I’m a member of. This way, I’m notified about important emails, but not interrupted by the background noise of postings to mailing lists or my regular email newsletters.

Filter out the fluff

The fewer emails you receive, the less of your time they will take. So far, so obvious.

But it’s worth thinking whether you can reduce the number of emails you have to read. Perhaps you’re a member of a mailing list that discusses lots of things only a few of which are specific interests of yours. You could filter the incoming messages so you only have to read those containing keywords you specify.

Similarly, any time at all you spend dealing with spam is wasted. Work out how much time this costs you, and how this translates into lost earnings. It’s almost certainly worthwhile investing in a commercial anti-spam solution if it help you to reclaim these lost hours.

These are three tactics you can use to regain control of your email system, letting it work for you instead of the other way round. Please feel free to add your own suggestions as comments to this post.