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How to Manage Email in Less than 30 Minutes a Day

Updated on November 23, 2014
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Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants and solopreneurs.

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Even though it totally revolutionized how we communicate, email can be an overwhelming task for anyone in business. But what if you could learn how to manage email in less than 30 minutes a day? Yes, it's possible! But it does take a systematic approach and the right mindset.

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The Time Study

Some years back, I was feeling overwhelmed and underpaid. Why? My life and my time were being sucked away from me by a host of unproductive activities including being too active on social media, marketing to the wrong markets and, of course, email. But, interestingly, I didn't realize these were the some culprits until I hired a business coach and he suggested I look at better managing my time.

Arrogantly, I thought I was a great manager of my day and my time. What my coach recognized is that I was getting things done by a brute force, whatever-it-takes attitude that kept me working until midnight or later. I was keeping up by staying up.

So my homework was to write down every single activity I did—in five minute increments no less—from the time I woke up until I went to bed (but not necessarily to sleep). Not surprisingly, I found that my day was filled with busy work that wasn't keeping my business busy with paid work.

That was it. I had to get control and get a life. And email was part of that equation.

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How More is Less When It Comes to Managing Email

One of my biggest problems with handling email was that I had everything going to one address. Sure, I only had to check one address. But what was happening was that both business and personal messages were all lumped together. So one message might be about a client's promotional product job, the next was on the repairs being made on our house, and then the following one would be about my nonprofit work. I was shifting gears mentally with every single message. That is exhausting and takes a huge amount of time to recover and regroup between messages.

So here's what I did. I set up three different email addresses. What? More email addresses? Yes! What I did was set up one for personal email, one for networking and social media connections, and the last was the money address, the one that I use exclusively for paid work. What this does is keep me focused on one type of issue at a time.

As an alternative to multiple email addresses, systems such as Gmail now allow for separate tabs to organize incoming messages. The user can set up rules for various contacts so that it goes to the correct tab. Currently, Gmail also identifies which incoming messages are promotional in nature and dumps them in a Promotions tab. A problem for marketers, but a huge benefit for users.

  • Email Management Tip: Set up multiple email addresses and/or tabs for each major business issue to keep messages organized and keep mentally focused.

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My Itchy Delete Key Trigger Finger

As a business person who uses and strongly supports email marketing, it's ironic that my index finger is poised right over the Delete key when reviewing email. Not every email needs to be read, people!

How do I decide what's worth it and what isn't? The email address and subject line! There are some email senders' messages that I read every... single... time. Why? Because they're important people or organizations. So when I see their name or address in the feed, I read it. For those not on this elite list, I scan the subject line. It's the "headline" of the message. If it doesn't grab me, it's gone. Lesson for marketers: The subject line is the most important part of an eblast. Use it wisely.

Currently Gmail deletes any deleted/trashed/purged messages after 30 days. For those who are nervous about accidentally deleting an important message, this can help alleviate some of the anxiety. Check for deletion policies for email provider used. If not available, manually go in and delete trashed messages to conserve on email storage space.

For those questionable messages that may or may not have future value, either archive or file them in an email folder for future reference... just in case. But get 'em out of the email inbox where they can distract!

  • Email Management Tip: Don't feel obligated to read every email received. Read only those from important senders and those that have relevant topics or issues of interest. Delete the rest.

Ding the Ping

Some computers, mobile devices and email systems are set to ping or ring every time a new email message is received. Turn it off! This is the greatest temptation to log in and get sucked into spending more time boxed in the email inbox.

  • Email Management Tip: Turn off audio alerts for email which can be distracting during priority and productive activities.

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My Email Appointment and Free Weekends

Some time management experts have recommended that email be checked only after other work is done. Really? Email is the primary way that I'm alerted that new business is coming my way. Sorry, email IS an important communication tool. It needs to be used and managed wisely, not ignored.

So in addition to setting up dedicated email addresses by subject, I also set up appointments for checking email. Like social media, I consider it a standing sales call and check it according to schedule every day, make that every weekday. I check it second thing in the morning (after my 30 minutes on social media), midday and possibly later in the afternoon. These checks only take a few minutes each and it is rare that I spend more than a total of 30 minutes on email.

Unless I'm queueing up some messages to be delivered or there's some super special reason for logging in, I leave email untouched after I've done the daily primary inbox checks AND all weekend. That's worked for me, though for some businesses, weekends or any other days off may not be possible. Even for them, scheduling email appointments can help keep it controlled.

Another issue that comes up about time spent on email is when lengthy responses are required. In my business, this occurs when a client requests pricing or proposals. I do not consider that part of my email time. That is my primary job; email is just a message delivery system and I only log in to get those proposals sent.

  • Email Management Tip: Schedule email appointments at times appropriate for the business, but limit overall time to that which is manageable such as 30 minutes... then stick to it! Depending on the business demand, set up an email-free time zone whether that's the standard weekend days or other days. For example, real estate agents may be super busy on the weekends, but some weekdays are super quiet which could be chosen for email-free days. In 24/7/365 businesses, it may not be possible to entirely ditch email any day. For those businesses, keeping to a regular daily email appointment schedule and shutting down when the workday is over can help keep it email from taking over one's life.

Disclaimer: The author/publisher has used best efforts in preparation of this article. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and all parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice, strategies and recommendations presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional adviser where and when appropriate. The author/publisher shall not be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. So by reading and using this information, you accept this risk.

© 2014 Heidi Thorne

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    • cygnetbrown profile image

      Donna Brown 2 years ago from Alton, Missouri

      I like the idea of using three different emails for different functions. I have two right now, but I now realize I need another for e-business.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi cygnetbrown! Using multiple emails has been an incredible tool for me. Of course too many can be unwieldy. But overall it helps to sort out all the facets of our lives. Hope your weekend is wonderful and email free!

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 2 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      I have just one email for all my contacts. I need to segregate them on the above lines as suggested by you. Great tips.

      Thanks.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It can definitely be a problem. Fortunately, I am good at time management, so I give myself a set amount of time for email and that's all....after that anyone trying to reach me is out of luck. :) And it's the weekend and my time is shorter still for emails and hubs, so I'm moving on and wishing you a great weekend.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hello rajan jolly! Hope the tips help to manage your inbox. Let us know how it goes. Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Billybuc, glad to see you've also found that setting time limits on your emailing (and all your other online adventures). Thanks for making time to read. Now go and have a fun weekend!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts about how you most efficiently manage Hub notifications, if indeed you even have this going to email. (I'm curious how other longer term Hubbers with larger numbers of followers tend to manage it, too.) I do divide my Hub email from other email accounts. Sometimes the volume is huge, however.

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 2 years ago from australia

      Most interesting and informative. Great idea having several email addresses. I'd be interested also in the question from Flourish Anyway -re managing hub notifications efficiently.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 2 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Good ideas. Up, useful, and interesting.

      I've tried having several email addresses but kept forgetting the existence of most of them, so I cut back to just two -- one for family and friends and one for companies, organizations, bureaucracies, and other. I do make extensive use of email filing systems. Like in Gmail I apply such tags as Needs Reply; Calendar, and Maybe Read Someday before I click Archive. (The latter tag is for emails that are widely shared philosophical speculations and opinion pieces.) I can sort through my in-box pretty quick, answering immediately emails that need only a quick reply, like, "Thanks!", and keeping aware morning, afternoon, and evening of any emails of high importance. I write my more involved replies when I am most awake, alert, and clear-headed, and I search on the Calendar tag when I am doing my scheduling.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      FlourishAnyway, I have the same problem! There are sooooo many amazing writers here on HP and I would like to keep posted on what they're writing. But it's difficult to keep up!

      Unfortunately, unlike Twitter or other social media feeds that can be searched and segmented (I use Hootsuite.com to do that for Twitter), HP doesn't seem to have a similar feature... yet. Wish they did! So when I get the daily Hub Notifications emails, I quickly scan and if there's anything of interest, I'll keep the email in queue to remind me to check it later. I also have a few super favorites here on HP for whom I just go to their profile a couple times a week to see what they're up to. Maybe we should all make a sorting suggestion to HP offices.

      Thanks for commenting. Wish I had a better way to sort HP. If I think of one, I'll certainly share! Happy Sunday!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi travmaj! I have the same HP hub notifications problem. See my comment to FlourishAnyway. Yes, I would love to have a sorting feature for my HP feed and notifications, too. Maybe we should suggest it. Thanks for reading and stopping by! Cheers!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi B. Leekley! What I've done with a lot of my "vanity" addresses is forward/copy them to one of my primary email buckets. Then I don't have to keep checking everything.

      Your strategy sounds a lot like mine. I need to do the main email stuff early while I'm clear and when there may be items I need to act upon (my promo biz is deadline sensitive). And, you're right, once I have a plan and buckets to put the various messages in, I can whip through my inbox in a flash.

      Thanks for adding your insight to the conversation! Happy Sunday!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      FlourishAnyway and travmaj, I started a thread in the HP Suggestions Forum for a way to sort HP feeds and email notifications. So wander on over there if you want to add your 2 cents. Thanks a bunch!

    • carter06 profile image

      Mary 2 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      Great idea having different accounts Heidi it's gotta make things easier..& I have found it so much better turning off audio notifications saves getting distracted with unnecessary work..

      Great hub will share & tweet..cheers

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hi carter06! Having segmented email accounts has definitely been a time & aggravation saver for me. And those audio notifications have got to go! :) Thanks for commenting and sharing! Have a great day!

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK

      I find it very difficult to manage email or indeed any social media correspondence. With email I use the tabs on Gmail for different categories, but find it ends up just being a way of redistributing email from the inbox without actually getting rid of it. Now I'm having to make a conscious effort to try to delete a certain number of emails each day (a few more than I receive) in order to reduce the vast number of old emails I currently have under different tabs. (I'm a hoarder by nature and loathe to delete anything!)

      Re-HubPages notifications, I look briefly at these, but don't usually have time to really attend to them straight away. So if there's any hubs mentioned which I think I might want to read, they go into my browser bookmarks/favorites for later attention (which only results in my bookmarks expanding almost as fast as my emails!) I can't win! :-)

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      Agreed, Greensleeves Hubs/Alun, keeping up with the influx of information has gotten so much tougher over the years as the volume of info and notifications has increased. Back in the day, it was paper piles which caused us just as much grief as the e-information we face now.

      You bring up a good point about hoarding or being afraid to let go of potentially useful information. I do the same thing with an array of categorized "just in case" folders which I may never look at again. But the good thing is that it's off my field of vision and off my mind. Just knowing that I do have it somewhere allows me to let go of it mentally. Today, though, I finding that if I'm not acting on it right away or within the next day or so, it really may not be that important and I just delete it without regret.

      I will have to burrow through my folders one day. When I casually looked through one of them recently, I realized how inconsequential the issues or info were. I might have less of that to do if I can let go right away. Something to think about.

      Thanks for adding your experience to the conversation! Have a great weekend!

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