Salvaging Millions

Taming your inbox: Seven tips to more efficient use of e-mail

E-mail can be a remarkable tool that boosts productivity or it can be a huge time waster. Mostly how well e-mail works depends upon how skilled you are at effectively managing it. I would like to share some of the tips and tricks that have helped me manage the hundreds of e-mails that I get every day.

  • Handle it once if possible – when looking over e-mail, I have a goal of getting it handled with one touch. It saves time to respond, delete, forward, or move an e-mail to a relevant folder in one touch.
  • Leave unresolved e-mails in your inbox – it’s hard to overlook an e-mail issue that I am working on if I am diligent in handling my incoming e-mail and leave a few pending e-mails in an otherwise clean inbox. Keeping your inbox clean will help you find things and lower your stress level. Leaving the pending issues in your box, rather than a folder on the desktop, makes it less likely you will overlook an issue.
  • Fretting about how to get started when you’ve got hundreds (or thousands) of e-mails in your in box? It’s simple. Just create a new folder called “old in box before [date]”. Move them to that folder. Now use your new set of folders beginning with the next e-mail received, and touch it once. If you get time, go back and sort those old ones, but chances are you won’t need many of them. But they will be there if you do.
  • Set up a sensible system of folders – for most people, the number of folders should not go beyond one or two dozen. Sub folders can help keep things organized while minimizing clutter. Create a main theme that uses a good decision rule for folders. It’s difficult to manage when some of your folders are named for dates, while others are named for people. Since e-mails include both names and dates, when designing your folders, consider a theme, then check it by going to your most recently, say the last few weeks, received e-mails. Scan them, writing down the folder name they would have gone to within that theme. With a few weeks of e-mails reviewed, you will have 80 percent of the folders you’ll ever need. Create them and use them going forward.
  • Set aside particular times for dealing with e-mail – some people feel compelled to constantly check their e-mail or respond every time they hear the ping of an incoming e-mail. Turn off e-mail notification and reserve time twice a day to do e-mails. Constant checking is a huge drain on productivity.
  • Write good subject lines – it is a time waster to get an e-mail from an employee with a subject line that does not clearly communicate the contents. Here are two bad subject lines – meeting, issue to resolve. Make certain that your employees know how to write good subject lines – for example: Meeting with Tom Jacobs rescheduled to 2 pm, truck repair estimate 2k more than expected.
  • Recognize the limits of e-mail – e-mail is a very poor way to discuss an issue when a decision needs to be made. Most e-mail discussions wander off topic. E-mail is also a poor way to build rapport. Apply these tips to make better use of e-mail.

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Ron Sturgeon is past owner of AAA Small Car World. In 1999, he sold his six Texas locations, with 140 employees, to Greenleaf. In 2001, he founded North Texas Insurance Auction, which he sold to Copart in 2002. In 2002, his book “Salvaging Millions” was published to help small business owners achieve significant success, and was recently reprinted. In June 2003, he joined the new ownership and management team of GreenLeaf. He also manages his real estate holdings and investments. You can learn more about him at He can be reached at 5940 Eden, Haltom City, TX 76117, or 817-834-3625 ext 6#.