How to manage an inbox better in your small business

Ian Cowley gives seven quick tips to organising your emails for maximum productivity.

Email has gone from being the godsend of business to a tool that could threaten to strangle your productivity if you let it.

The sheer volume of correspondence we receive on a daily basis is mind boggling, but by following these seven simple steps you can stay in control. Maybe you will even achieve the mythical ‘Inbox Zero’ status one day.

1. Purge, purge, purge. Never stop getting rid of items in your inbox. Make it a daily task because the flow never stops. Unsubscribe from emailers, newsletters and lists that you don’t read as they are just junk mail getting in your way and every now and then have a real purge or all those read but unarchived emails to flush out everything unnecessary.

2. Archive, don’t delete. Archive everything and you will never regret a hasty delete again. Include keywords in the message before you archive and it will let you search and find again with ease. This is a great tip, especially if you are still organising everything into folders. Take it from me, folders are a complete waste of time and impossible to keep on top of.

3. Right person first time. How many times a day do you forward emails, addressed to you, to the correct person in your company to deal with the matter? If this is happening regularly, stop it by simply sending a message alerting the sender to the most relevant person, pointing out that they will receive quicker attention by going direct.

4. Keep it short. A long email takes you ages to read and also makes the other person feel they must write an equally long response. It’s wasted time, so keep it brief. Make decisions by email if you can as phone calls still have that protocol of niceness attached to them meaning you will spend the first two minutes catching up on their weekend. Email ensures decisions are reached quicker. To make it even quicker, arm yourself with newer tools such as instant messenger, which will shave minutes off the time taken to get something actioned.

5. Filters. These are very useful. If you are putting up a job advert for instance, use filters to file away the relevant emails for ease of retrieval and to stop them getting in the way of your day to day correspondence.

6. Holidays. Your partner will hate me saying this but checking your emails while away on holiday is – contrary to advice – bad for you, if it helps you keep on top of things. It can even allow you to enjoy your break more as you’re not worrying about things ticking over in your absence. Going cold turkey doesn’t necessarily do your business any good.

7. Inbox Zero. Every few weeks, dedicate a few hours to seeing if you can reduce the emails in your inbox to nil. It’s a great feeling.

Further reading on email

Ian Cowley

Ian Cowley

Ian Cowley is managing director of

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