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4 ways to tame your email

ShopTalk columnist Jennie Wong says it’s great to be in demand, but business owners have to take control of their email to avoid letting other people’s requests dominate the day.
ShopTalk columnist Jennie Wong says it’s great to be in demand, but business owners have to take control of their email to avoid letting other people’s requests dominate the day. MCT

Are you drowning in a sea of email? Is your inbox overflowing to the point where you can’t find the important stuff anymore? It’s great to be in demand, but business owners have to take control of their email to avoid letting other people’s requests take over their day.

Organize your mind … and your folders

Stacey Randall is an adjunct professor at Queens University and a time efficiency expert. Randall advises a mindset shift: “Emails are not love letters; they are tasks. So don’t confuse the number of emails you receive with how much you are loved or needed.”

Randall also recommends using folders to organize emails, as well as a technique she calls “one and done.”

“I use a system where I touch an email only once. I can’t possibly respond to all the email I receive daily, and in reality most don’t need a same-day response. So when I receive an email, I either 1) answer it, 2) delete it, 3) file it, 4) delegate it, or 5) move it to my Outlook task list. When I move an email to the task list, I move it out of the inbox. This is how I hit a “zero inbox” every day, and I am in control of my emails.”

Go on a spam diet

Of course, you can also start at the top of the funnel and reduce the amount of junk email you receive in the first place. Ashleigh White is a Charlotte-based internal communications consultant for Liberty Mutual who has found a useful tool for this: “I spent an hour at the beginning of the year using Unroll.me, which combines subscriptions and removes you from any (email mail lists) you no longer wish to receive. It’s lightened my inbox by more than 50 percent.”

Set expectations

On the other end of the equation, you can manage expectations for your response time. Tracie Ohonme, co-founder of the nonprofit Samaritan’s Feet, has an auto-reply that informs people of her “email hours,” which are 7 a.m., 11 a.m., and 3 p.m.

Consider email alternatives

A more radical solution might be to move off email altogether. Abigail Miressi of Tech Talent South communicates with her team using an entirely different platform. “Slack is an amazing alternative. It’s a free platform for you and your team to organize, communicate and store your thoughts. You can specify ‘channels’ of discussion, have private group conversations, as well direct messages. It’s a great way to cut down on the ‘one-question’ emails.”

Whichever of these techniques you try, remember that email, like many things, is a good servant but a bad master.

What are your favorite tips or tricks for taming the email beast? Share your insights: email me at thejenniewong@gmail.com.

Jennie Wong, Ph.D. is a Charlotte-based executive coach and the creator of the e-commerce tool www.ShoppingQuizzes.com.

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