Find Time to Take Charge of Your E-mail (So That It Doesn't Take Charge of You)!

Finding time to manage the volume of e-mail that we receive here at The Time Finder can feel like a full-time job some days.  I am sure that many of you can relate to that feeling.  (In fact, I recently had an e-mail from a member of the Finding Time Community, which has prompted this post.)

So, today I wanted to share some tips that I and my VA use, to keep things organized – AND to keep from feeling overwhelmed.

Establishing and maintaining time boundaries is one of the keys – and the other involves creating a system for organizing the e-mails that you receive to make them accessible – while housing them someplace other than your in-box.

So, are you ready for a few ideas about how to take charge of your e-mail?

  • First, decide when you will check your e-mail and how much time you will spend.  Then, use a timer to help you stick to your plan.  You can use a simple egg timer, or one of the many on-line timers that are available at places like Online Stopwatch.
  • If you receive a great deal of e-mail, you will do well to schedule e-mail checks several times a day.
  • When you are not scheduled for a check, I recommend that you shut down your e-mail so that you are not distracted by it.
  • Make it your end-of-the-day goal to have your  inbox cleaned out.

Yes, I hear the incredulous reactions!  Empty in-box?  That’s not possible!  But it truly is, and the reduced stress makes it well worth the effort involved.

Organization is the key – and once you have a concept in mind, technology can step in and help with some of the implementation.

  • Create folders to organize your e-mail.  Do this according to the system that works best for you and/or your business.  You might organize e-mails by subject, by person, by any category that is meaningful to you.
  • In addition to your category folders, one thing I advise for everyone is that you create folders for items that are time-sensitive.  For example, I have a folder for e-mails that are “Awaiting Response,” another one where I keep things I want to “Read Today” and another for things to “Read This Weekend”  These are folders that I check as frequently as necessary, but not as often as my in-box.
  • You can have as many subcategories of folders as you wish.  So, for example, I have a JV folder with sub-folders titled “Current,” “Completed,” and “Pending.”  Within each of those folders I then have other sub-folders with the names of the people I’ve JV’d with.
  • In most e-mail services, you have the capacity to create e-mail filters.  E-mail filters can help you take charge of your e-mail by organizing it before you even lay eyes on it!
  • eHow.com offers some generic instructions for setting up filters in most e-mail systems.  Think about categories of e-mails that you don’t need to see immediately but that you want to collect and save.  For example, we receive an e-mail whenever someone signs up for our mailing list.  They can overwhelm an in-box quickly, so my VA created a filter that sends those e-mails immediately to our “New Subscribers” folder.
  • Filters are often highly customizable.  You can set them up to filter your e-mails based on words in the subject line, by sender,  or combinations of different data points.  You can also have filters set to send e-mails to your “Delete” folder if you wish.

I hope that this post gives you some ideas to help take charge of your e-mail.  As we’ve implemented these tools and concepts, we have freed up a great deal of time here at The Time Finder!

Bonus Tip:  In most e-mail systems that I know of, the folders you create will be listed alphabetically.  Whenever you have a folder that you want to move to the top of your list of folders, put an exclamation point in front of its title.  That’s a trick I learned from Connie Ragen Green – and it really helps when I want to keep track of something that would otherwise be way at the bottom of my list.

So, do you have a favorite time-saving tool for your web-based work?  Share it in a comment – I’d love to hear!

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Let’s explore time together …

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