By Adrian Booth

Are you fighting a losing battle with your emails? You know the story, you’ve got important stuff to get on with, and then you look at your in-box. An hour later you realise all you’ve done is respond to a lot of things that maybe could have waited and you’ve made little or no progress with the urgent task. Trouble is, if you hope it will all go away and don’t look at your inbox you could find you’ve missed something really important.

If this sounds familiar, you are certainly not alone. Feeling swamped by emails affects all business sectors and all businesses to varying degrees. For small businesses where time is a vital factor, getting to grips with your inbox should be a priority.

There’s no denying email is a remarkable breakthrough in communication, but it is also a beast we need to tame if we are going to use it effectively.

So here are ten common sense ideas about sending and receiving email, which should make things easier. It’s all about emailing unto others as you’d have them email unto you...

1. Email is a great way to communicate, but it isn’t an immediate medium. Somehow, we are losing the art of picking up the phone. Don’t assume people will read and act on your email straight away. If something is urgent, ring them.

2. The "Subject" line should give a clear indication of what the email is about. If we all use it for that purpose we can make a quick decision about whether to open the email now, and both the sender and the recipient can find the email later. It is unfortunately common to get emails from people which come as a reply to something you sent them last week or last month. Although they are introducing a new subject, they’ve simply clicked on the last email and haven’t changed the subject line. The result is that the subject line doesn’t reflect the content and this muddies the waters.

3. Keep it brief. Think about what it is like to be in receipt of long emails. However, if you are sending an attachment, remember lots of people get their emails on the go on smart phones so help them by including the content of the attachment or a summary of it, in the body of the email as well where appropriate.

4. Creating folders to help organise your emails as they come in, helps avoid that overflowing inbox. You can create a priority folder called Urgent, and you can have a To Do folder. You can also keep all emails with a common theme together by creating folders for projects, reports or products etc. Equally, Microsoft’s latest Outlook 2010 Conversation View lets you turn dozens of emails into just a few conversations. Or use the Ignore feature to send an entire conversation, and future messages in the conversation, to your Deleted Items.

5. Ask yourself, does this need a reply? If you can reply swiftly, say, in a couple of minutes, do it straight away it will save time. If it needs action that will take longer, park it in Urgent or To Do. This also helps avoid situations where you forget to take action because you’ve briefly looked at an email, and it has been marked as read.

6. If you receive an email covering lots of different topics, answer what you can now, and items that need work go into your To Do folder so you keep moving forward, and don’t delay the process. Sometimes you can do the opposite. If you get several different emails and you can answer them all in one message, do that too. Sometimes just picking up the phone and covering all the little points is the quickest route!

7. Don’t ignore spam; it won’t go away on its own, so make sure you mark it as junk as you delete it. That way more spam is culled before reaching your inbox.

8. Don’t expect your recipient to wade through ten previous message strands to understand the message you are sending them, it is time consuming and a bit rude. Give a brief summary of the context that went before.

9. If you are subscribing to newsletters you could live without, unsubscribe.

10. Decide what your email top ten are and get those who work for or with you to think about best practice too and try get everyone to sign-up to it.

The web is alive with ideas about how to best manage your email. And as ever, Microsoft offers lots of ideas about grabbing control of your email, with particular emphasis on Outlook. Why not download a trial of the latest version of Outlook by clicking here.

Watch the video below featuring Tanya Shirlow, SMB Marketing Lead at Microsoft UK, as she discusses the advantages of cloud services.

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