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Seven steps to delete email chaos

Karen is 48 years old and loves her business.

With several locations around the city, her reputation as a mover and shaker is growing. She’s grown her company using a combination of personality and smarts.

But Karen has a secret.

It’s a secret that costs her time and money and sometimes impacts her staff and their ability to do their jobs.

So what’s Karen’s secret?

Under that put-together exterior was chaos of the electronic type: Karen’s email was out of control.

She had tons of folders to file in but used them inconsistently. There were 2,148 emails languishing in her inbox. And the volume she received each day made her feel like she could never catch up.

Unfortunately, Karen’s scenario is becoming more common each year.

Many people are barely managing to keep their heads above water as they react frantically to each new email that arrives. It’s common to hear, “I’d love to manage my email more effectively, but I simply don’t have the time to stop and work on it.”

Many professionals in business today feel that their email chaos is costing them emotionally, financially and, sometimes, relationally.

So what’s a person to do? Is there a solution to end the chaos?

Back to Karen: Several questions can help her begin to get to get to the root of her chaos:

What systems does she currently have in place to try and manage her email?

Is she reactive or responsive? In other words, is she controlling her use of email or is it controlling her?

How well does she delegate to her staff?

What are her critical daily priorities for moving the business forward?

In her book, “Take Back Your Life,” author Sally McGhee relates the following story:

Dear Sally,

Yesterday I deleted every single email in my Inbox. I sent a message to all of my staff and customers and informed them that my mail had been deleted and if there was anything I’d missed to get back to me ASAP!

Of course, that’s a very extreme example, but how’s that for taking back control? If you didn’t want to go that route, you could simply archive all those messages and see what happens. You might be surprised and delighted at all anticipated emergencies that never actually materialize.

Many professionals in corporate America receive upwards of 200 email messages a day. The ability to manage that message load with any kind of detail is impossible without a good system.

And frankly, many people are afraid to delete or file messages away because they “might need to reference them again.”

In the past, deleting an email meant probably never being able to retrieve a message (easily) again. Thankfully, most email systems today have very good search and retrieve functions, even for deleted messages.

Additionally, many people use their inbox as a storage or reminder vehicle. Unfortunately, that results in the average inbox housing 1,500 to 2,000 messages at any one time. That’s a lot of stressful reminders staring at you every single day.

Implement these seven rules for managing email. You’ll find more time and probably more money (from better follow-up) as well:

Check email three times per day: 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Use a timer to stay focused.

Turn off the message arrival ding and ghost notification

Delete those nonessential messages. (You know the ones.) Let them go.

Do respond if you can in less than two minutes.

Defer messages by temporarily filing them away if they take longer than two minutes to respond to. Use a system that reminds you to respond to those emails during an allotted time in your calendar.

Delegate the message request to someone else on your team who can handle the details. Give them a deadline and mark it in your calendar to follow up with them. Ask them to report back before the deadline that the task is completed.

Unsubscribe from all those pesky updates, alerts, e-zines, message board notifications and retail updates. Choose three to five useful resources. Unsubscribe from the rest.

With a few simple changes, priorities and an easily learned new skill set, anyone can tame the email monster.

And Karen?

She’s taken control of her email. At any one time, she has less than 20 emails in her inbox. She sets aside three times a day to process the messages that arrive and schedules time to handle what can’t be done in under two minutes.

And her staff is delighted that she’s sharing more information, delegating work to them and responding thoughtfully to the email they send her.

Angie Mattson is chief efficiency officer for Charlotte-based Mattson Business Services. Email her questions at angie@mattsonbusiness.com.

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