It’s 9 a.m. on Monday morning. A small business owner arrives at work after a relaxing weekend with family, refreshed and ready for the week ahead.
That is, at least, until after the computer is turned on. There it is, the number that has been dreaded since late Friday afternoon; the number that seems to kill the week before it has even begun: 800. No, it’s not the number of hits the website received, nor the number of products the company has sold. The computer displays 800…new emails.
Thoughts that can occur at this point include who the brilliant mind behind this technology was and if email is supposed to be improving productivity, how come people feel like they are falling behind before they have even gotten started?
According to entrepreneurship expert Evan Carmichael, if business owners feel that way, they are not alone. “For many small business owners, email is their main means of communication,” he says. “But because of the sheer quantity they receive, they can get lost and feel even more burdened than they already are with the other aspects of running their own company.”
The solution? Make email work for you, not against you. “As entrepreneurs, time is the most important commodity, and people can’t afford to waste it,” says Carmichael. “Email can definitely boost productivity at work, but only if people, in turn, are using it productively.”
Steps to be more productive with email include:
Set aside a certain time during the day or the week to check the inbox. “There are few emails that are so important that a person has to reply instantly,” says Carmichael. “People should schedule a time to check email just as they would schedule a meeting. Whether it’s one hour a day, or a couple hours every Monday, restricting how often email is read will help make sure it is not taking over the work week.”
To that end, Carmichael also suggests closing the mail program until it’s time to check again, so that the constant arrival of new messages is not distracting.
Business owners should try as hard as possible to eliminate spam, making sure that the emails they do spend time checking are actually important ones that need attention.
Software security firm Symantec reports that in February 2007, 80 percent of email received in the U.S. could be classified as junk.
Because they don’t have big budgets or full-time tech staff, small business owners can be particularly vulnerable to spam,” says Carmichael. “But, everyone has access to anti-spam programs, and should learn to use them.”
Junk mail should also never be deleted, but rather used to create rules in the mail program to filter out those unwanted addresses. And, companies should make sure they have a formal written email policy. “Employees need to know when to use company email addresses and when not to,” says Carmichael.
Finally, small business owners need to set an example of how to properly use email for the rest of their staff.
“Always be brief,” says Carmichael. “If they find they are writing a short story, then email probably isn’t the way to go.” Also, refuse to continue the chains of forwarded emails, and don’t respond to letters that just aren’t worth your time.
“Forget passing on the forward that reads ‘The Top Ten Ways to Get Rich Quick,” says Carmichael. “If people focus on getting the proper systems and schedules in place, they’ll get there in their own time.”
Following these tips can help a small business owner and their staff become more productive in the workplace and reduces the overwhelming feeling that email can bring to the workplace.