Email is an integral tool for an entrepreneur. Whether you are setting up meetings, answering client queries or securing new business you can do it from wherever you are, at whatever time.

But let’s face it. It can also be a tremendous bind and a huge source of stress, massively reducing your productivity.

According to research from the Mckinsey Global Institute, we spend up to 28% of our working week on email. Which isn’t a surprise considering that most of us receive hundreds, if not thousands of emails, each week.

So how can you get a better handle on email, to reduce stress and increase your productivity? In this blog we discuss five tips for taking control of your inbox, so it doesn’t control you.

Only check your email at specific times of the day

Studies show that it takes 23 minutes to get back to a task once you’ve been interrupted. So it’s no surprise that some days you feel like you’ve got nothing done if you’ve been reacting to every email notification you receive (whether you reply to it or not). So it makes sense to close down your inbox, mute notifications and hide your smartphone if you really want to have a productive day.

Only you know how often you really need to check your email. But we can guarantee that whether you limit yourself to checking your email 10 minutes each hour or three times a day you’ll get so much more done

You may feel anxious about this at first, but ask yourself – how many emails, among the deluge of irrelevant marketing messages, do you really need to react to immediately?

And what is the worst that could really happen if you respond to an “urgent” email, two hours after it was sent? If you’re really worried, set up an out of office saying that you are only checking email at specific times but can be contacted by phone “in an emergency”.

Prioritise your email by action time

A great way of managing your inbox (once you’ve reached your designated time of day to check it of course!) is to prioritise by how much time it will take you to deal with. For example, if you are allocating 10 minutes each hour to check your email, you need to be strict with that time so it doesn’t bleed into the next hour.

When you open up your inbox quickly assess which ones can be immediately deleted (typically marketing emails), which ones you can quickly respond to (in less than two minutes – be strict!) and then leave the ones that will take a bit longer. Even if you are checking your email every hour, it’s good practice to block out a certain time of the day (or even week) when you can just focus on those that require you to conduct some research or compose a lengthy response.

And try not to procrastinate on responding to emails that could lead to awkward responses, otherwise they’ll niggle away at you.

Set up different folders and categories

The more organised you can make your inbox, the less stress it will give you. So what’s the best way to categorise your email?

Well that really is up to you. You may find it easier to categorise by clients, or by priority or by status. Or a mixture of all three.

For example, you could set up folders for emails that require action but aren’t urgent. You could have a folder for emails that you have replied to but are awaiting a response. And you could have a folder for emails that have been actioned but you need to keep for reference.

You could have folders for interesting articles that you have been sent.

The idea is that while you may have some unread emails, you can move them to a specific folder – so they have been looked at but you know you don’t have to respond to or action them immediately. That way your “main inbox” doesn’t build up to the extent that you feel overwhelmed by it.

And the better organised you are, the more likely you can find an email when you need to refer to it, days or weeks after you received it.

Unsubscribe from unnecessary email lists

Most of us entrepreneurs want to keep up with the latest industry thinking and productivity practices. But you can easily lose count of the number of email lists that you end up on. And even in a post-GDPR world we may not realise that we’ve agreed to receive regular emails after downloading a helpful white paper.

It’s good practice to have a regular purge and assess which emails you want to stay subscribed to. A good way of doing this is to check the last time you read an “expert’s” newsletter. That will give you the answer to whether you need to stay subscribed or not.

Also, ask yourself, who are the top two or three thought leaders in your industry? And are they really saying anything different to each other? Yes, you need to stay on top of industry news, and the latest best practices, but it’s unlikely you’ll miss anything if you unsubscribe from 75% of these lists.

So conduct a search in your inbox for the term “unsubscribe” and get merciless with who you give your time to!

Hire a virtual PA to manage your email for you

There’s nothing worse than seeing that there are thousands of unread emails in your inbox. So it can be difficult to take that first step in setting up the actions we’ve just discussed. So hiring a virtual PA means they can sort it all out for you.

At IntelligentPA we are happy to roll up our sleeves and get deep and dirty in your inbox. We can get rid of all the rubbish you don’t need and set up rules and folders so you never feel overwhelmed by email again. We can organise your email exactly as you want us to or even make recommendations on the best way to structure your inbox ourselves.

So get in touch now so we can start reducing your email stress levels immediately!