Technology is great. Email, the internet, and smart phones have made it much easier to communicate with people across the room and with people across the globe.

But at the same time, I’ve worked with countless business owners whose productivity and effectiveness are far lower than they should be, often due specifically to the way that they use email. Email can be your best friend, but it can also be your worst enemy.

Below are four tips to help you manage your email—instead of letting your email manage you:

  1. Schedule time to read and respond to email messages.  This is the single most important rule to follow.  Schedule times throughout the day to check your email—otherwise, you are constantly allowing yourself to be interrupted.  At the very least, schedule yourself several “email free” time periods each day where you do not allow email to interfere.

  1. Organize your email.  Many of my clients simply leave all of their messages in their inbox… or at least they did before we addressed the issue!  Yes, it takes a second or two per message to stick it in a folder—but it will save you lots of time and aggravation when you are searching for a specific message two months later.  Create a logical system of organization—that may mean a folder for each client, vendor, and employee or whatever it may be.

  1. Prioritize before responding.  If you attempt to respond to each message in your inbox, you may end up spending hours without even getting to the important stuff.  Before responding, determine which messages need an immediate response, which need a response before the end of the day, which can be addressed anytime in the next week or so, and which do not warrant a response.  Respond to urgent messages immediately, but save the rest until you have the time.

  1. Do not send more email than necessary—and do not let your staff.  Many offices have a bad habit of CC’ing the entire firm on an email that may only concern two of the employees.  When this happens, everyone’s time is wasted.  Do not CC people that do not need to be CC’d, do not forward emails that do not need to be forwarded, and do not reply to emails that do not need a reply.  Each decision may only save you ten or fifteen seconds—but you will be amazed how rapidly the time savings add up.

Email is an incredible tool, but it is often mismanaged.  As a small business owner, you simply do not have the time to waste—so learn to manage your email efficiently.