This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Email Organization for the Entrepreneur

Sooner or later, it happens to every entrepreneur. With most of your communications arriving via email, your inbox can quickly become an overwhelming, stressful place.

The result?

You stop opening emails you know will require a response.

You may even dread opening your email client at all.

Soon, your inbox is littered with unread, un-acted-upon emails, many with deadlines which have already passed. You kid yourself into thinking this is some kind of “to-do” list, but in reality, you’re just avoiding having to deal with it, because you simply don’t know where to start.

Talk about stressful!

And what about those legitimate emails that need a response? Clients, potential clients, and dozens of others contact you through email, and if you don’t keep a clean inbox, sooner or later something is going to slip through the cracks, and you’ll lose a valuable opportunity. I know because this has happened to me more times than I care to admit.

A Big Sigh of Relief

Ask anyone who’s suffered from inbox overload and gone on to embrace “Inbox Zero,” and they’ll tell you how freeing it can be. Suddenly, you’re no longer a slave to your email. You don’t waste time every day searching for that one email you know you need to answer but can’t find. You don’t have to ask clients to re-send information. Best of all, you stop dreading that first onslaught of emails in the morning.

You are in control.

Your Plan of Action

Before you can get your out-of-control emails into some kind of manageable system, you have to map out a plan. Will you declare an email D-Day and simply delete everything so you can start fresh? Will you block off a few hours (or days) to carefully scan and sort your current emails? (I prefer this one. I’m too chicken to delete everything.) Or will you use your email client’s filters to automatically file what you have? (This is also a great way to start fresh without deleting everything just in case.)

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All three methods work – but if you have thousands of emails in your inbox, you might just want to decide that anything before, say, last year is deleted. Let’s face it, if you haven’t answered that email by now, it’s probably no longer relevant.

If you only have a few hundred emails to get through, then using filters or a manual sort method will probably work best for you.

So let’s get started.

Email OrganizationStart with the obvious dead weight: Advertisements, junk, marketing emails you don’t care about, and email from your mailing list subscriptions can be deleted on the spot. The same can (generally) be said about email from friends and family, notifications of comments to moderate, Facebook messages, Twitter notifications, Google notifications, and LinkedIn connection requests. Highlight them all, and click the delete button. If you use Outlook you can use the sweep function to find others like it and delete them all. It is very freeing. In Gmail I just do a search for that particular email address and it pulls all of them up. From there you can just highlight and delete.

Next, look for emails from current and prospective customers. Move them to a folder called “Respond To” or something similar, so they’re out of your way but still close at hand. You’ll deal with those later.

Finally, take a look at what’s left. Chances are there’s not much, and you can deal with them on an individual basis.

Once your inbox is clean (or at least greatly reduced) you can go back to that “Respond To” folder and begin answering, starting either with the most urgent messages or with the oldest. The important thing is not where you begin, but that you work through the entire folder. Do not let emails collect in this folder indefinitely. That will only move your problem from the inbox to another folder, when what you’re trying to do is resolve your stress, not hide it.

It’s easy to see why an overflowing inbox can be stressful for an entrepreneur. If you take some time to map out your plan for dealing with the current backlog, and then develop a solid system moving forward, you’ll be ahead of the game.

 

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