We all know that getting your inbox down to zero (or at least to something manageable), and keeping it that way for more than a few hours is nearly impossible.
This is especially true for in-demand business owners who are constantly fielding requests from team members, outside networks, potential partners, etc. So, how do you save time while minimizing your “Unread” folder?
We asked 13 busy entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) what one email rule they live by to save themselves hours each week. Their best answers are below.
1. Color Coding and Copying/Pasting
I have about 50 emails a day that I need to send out based on my to-do list, prior to answering my inbox. I color code them on my calendar so that each item can be accomplished by me writing one email, copy/pasting it to the next in the same color category, and simply editing it quickly to make sense for each item. I can get through 50 emails in 20 minutes this way, and keep them to the point. - Darrah Brustein, Network Under 40 / Finance Whiz Kids
2. Limiting Email Time
Email is the single largest hindrance to productivity. I set aside one hour a day to focus on email. That’s it. Remember, when you live in your inbox, you’re focusing your energy on accomplishing what other people want you to get done instead of what is most imperative for your business. Focus on what you need to get done to drive your business forward and execute! - Arian Radmand, CoachUp
3. Emailing in The Morning
I try to limit my email time to mornings only. There are always exceptions, but anything that can wait, does. By blocking the morning off, I'm able to concentrate on strong responses and stay focused on getting through my inbox. Once I'm done with emails, I'm able to concentrate on other important tasks without interruptions or the constant need to check my inbox. - Brooke Bergman, Allied Business Network Inc.
4. Leveraging a Virtual Assistant
It's great to have a virtual assistant who scans your inbox, filters out the noise, responds where he or she already knows the response, and only alerts you to the most important messages. I find that this costs relatively little money in terms of wages paid to a quality VA, but results in a huge return on my time saved. It's awesome to only have five important emails instead of a bunch of junk! - Dave Nevogt, Hubstaff.com
5. Organizing With Labels and Automatic Filters
Emails take a good portion of time no matter who you are. The thing I have found to be most important is limiting the time spent sifting through everything. I was able to save countless hours each week by setting up labels and automatic filters which help organize everything for me to sort through when I sit down. Now I can spend less time sorting and more time reading and answering. - Stanley Meytin, True Film Production
6. Checking Email at Set Times
Checking your email throughout the day can be a distraction that lowers your productivity. Instead, try checking email only at set times. You will be amazed at the increase in your productivity when your work flow is not constantly being interrupted by new emails. - Doug Bend, Bend Law Group, PC
7. Using Boomerang
By using Boomerang to bring back emails I don't need to respond to right now, I'm able to triage out unimportant messages and stay focused. This saves me hours and makes me significantly more effective at my job as founder and CEO of a growing startup. - Jason Shah, Do
8. Not Filing or Labeling
I know people who have literally hundreds of folders or labels in their inbox and spend precious time putting each email in its precise place; and then more time looking for that same email later. With today's inbox search capabilities, this is almost entirely unnecessary. It's easy to find archived emails by searching keywords. All of my emails live in two places: Inbox and Archive. - Brittany Hodak, ZinePak
9. Using Lists Instead of Emails
Whatever app you use (I use OmniFocus), get the email out of your inbox and onto a list of things to do. It's very easy to try and use your inbox like a list manager, but it's not designed for that any more than your physical mailbox is. If you haven't read Getting Things Done by David Allen, do so, then use whatever apps you'd like. The process of getting things in lists is what's critical. - Jerry Nevins, Snow & Co
Related Article: Tomato, Tomahto: The Only Productivity Technique You’ll Ever Need
10. Using Message Prefixes
At our company, we have a system where emails sent contain a prefix: URGENT, PR (please respond), FD (for discussion), FYI, TODO. It makes for easier filtering and processing, which cuts down on time significantly. A good chunk of email time is figuring out how to respond to certain emails. This is an easy way to have the senders just ask explicitly. - Anthony Scherba, Yeti
11. Going Offline
One of the most aggravating things about processing email is that it usually generates more email. So, flip your email into offline mode before you process email. If you don't have a client that allows you to do that (most do), you can use an extension like Boomerang or Streak to send your mail later. That way, you can get out of your inbox before the responses come flooding in. - Matt Hunckler, Verge
12. Archiving, Answering or Snoozing. No Exceptions
I use Mailbox to constantly triage my emails. Any email that requires a 1-3 sentence answer gets answered immediately on my phone. Any informational email gets read immediately, then archived. All other emails get snoozed until the date and time where it will require an immediate response. - Neil Thanedar, LabDoor