Inbox Zero

Some time ago I came across an article by Rebecca Corliss about managing her email inbox.  Given my liking for anything that helps people manage their inbox, naturally I was curious to find out how  did this. Her article is not available any more but her method is still worth considering.

You may think her method looks a bit complicated. However please stay with her as it is quite simple really.

Each email package will have the ability for you to create a new mailbox folder so while you are on holiday all your email will go into that folder instead of sitting in your inbox. Each package will work a little differently though the process to set up folders and filters will be similar.

You may think “so what” the email is all going to be there still when you get back from holiday.

However the beauty of this little ruse is that when you get back and your inbox starts to fill up with new messages, you can deal with them straight away and know they are current instead of having them at the top of several screens full of email that built up while you were away.

If you also set up an “out of office” message to let people know you’re away they will know not to expect a reply from you. Or you can ask them to contact someone else in the office.

Though it might take a bit to time to set it up in your email package, it will be worth is as it will save you so much time when you get back and you will feel more in control.

As Rebecca says “when I return from vacation, I strategically handle unread emails. … Once the more time-sensitive messages are addressed, I’ll simply allocate a couple hours a day to respond to the remaining emails in this vacations folder. That way, I’m not only back-on-track quickly, but am able to immediately start helping my team without all “email catch up” time getting in the way. No email overload to overwhelm me.

If you would like some help to set up your holiday email folder and filters, let me know and we can work on it together.

Free eBook – how to manage your email inbox

email ebook cover The volume of email arriving in the email inbox has become a major problem for many people. Since I’ve been working with small business owners I’ve realised just how big this problem is.

From time to time I’ve shared my thoughts on managing the email ogre in my blog. Now I’ve put some of those blogs together here so you have hints and tips on managing your email in one place. This will make it easier for you to use this advice to keep your email under control.

Check out my free eBook 8 Ways to Manage Your Email Inbox so you too can start to manage your email inbox.

Email Management – love it or hate it

When I gave this presentation recently I started by saying that the email experience is different for everyone – some people get maybe 10 emails a day while others get 100 or more. Each situation needs a different approach to managing email.

Read more

My email has stopped working. Grrrr!

All my email messages are still there and I can still see them.  But the little line at the top of the screen says “not responding” and I’m getting tired of trying to make it respond.

I can get by though because I have a backup email system that contains all my email.  I also have important messages saved in my directory structure. So I can find most of the emails I need.

Does that sound a bit like Little Goody Two-Shoes? Maybe so but to me it’s simply good business practice.

What I am missing is the folder structure I had set up in my usual email (MS Outlook).  In particular my “Action Required” folder where I saved anything that needed some action from me..  I don’t have that same folder structure in my backup system (Gmail). Now if I had only set that up before this happened …

Anyway, now it’s off to my IT support team to sort me out  in Outlook so I don’t waste any more time searching for emails that require me to take some action. And when they’ve done their bit, I’ll set up a mirrored folder system in Gmail so I won’t have the same frustration next time. Maybe I’ll use the Gmail Priority Inbox system.



It’s easy to manage your email inbox: don’t send email

The email inbox is still the biggest problem for lots of people I work with.  The best advice I’ve seen recently about managing your inbox is don’t send email.  Really?? How does that work? You simply can’t live without email!

How often do you send an email to say “thanks” for a message sent to you? Is that message really necessary? How often do you receive an email message that simply says “thanks” or “OK”

Your email message generates emails back.

Think carefully about the next email you send. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why are you sending this information by email?
  • Is it really necessary?
  • How will that email benefit you and the receiver?
  • What does it add to the information the other person needs
  • Is this the best way to communicate your message? Or is there another way to get your message through to someone else?

Don’t do long email threads.  If the email conversation is generating a worthwhile discussion, phone the person, go to their desk/office and talk to them or arrange to go out for a coffee or lunch.  If more than one person is involved, arrange a meeting – even if only for a few minutes.

If you need to keep a record of the phone or in person discussion, write a quick note when you get back to my desk and file it.  If you need to remember something important from that discussion – say the time and place for another meeting, make a note of it – in a notebook or in your smartphone.

Now you’re not going to stop the emails altogether.  And I don’t suggest you do.  Email is a very effective way of communicating with other people.  But use it sensibly.

Organise the emails you go get into folders so emails like newsletters, social media alerts and such don’t actually reach your inbox.  Google has started to do this very effectively with Gmail.  Check out this video.

If you don’t use Gmail, it’s worth taking a few minutes to follow the Google’s advice and set up your own folders in the email package you use.

For more information on how to do this go to my blog “Demystify your inbox”  and “Good habits around email

Remember your email inbox is not a filing cabinet

You can contact me for more help or you can read about more hints and tips to improve your business in my free eBook; and even more if you download the eWorkbook that gives you a full set of instructions on how to set up a filing system for your business, including filing emails.

Judy Owen has been working with businesses of all sizes and complexities for more than 20 years to improve and streamline the access to their business information.  She and her team can show you how to reduce risk, improve productivity and increase profits with good business systems and processes in your business.






Communication is everything – and Google forgot!

Last month Google revamped Gmail so that incoming mail was diverted from the inbox to different folders before mailbox owners got to see their new email messages.

There was an outcry! Why? Surely this change is a good one if it sorts your emails before they get to you? Yes – most definitely.

But Google just did it without any warning.  One day all the email went into the inbox; the next day it went into different folders – and that was the day Google told its Gmail users about the change.

Now your inbox only contains emails that have been sent directly to you. Messages sent to long list of people with your email address in there somewhere now go to one of three folders:

Social – for messages via LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter etc

Promotions – from companies wanting to sell you something

Forums – for messages from groups you belong to such as professional organisations

With these messages safely tucked into their own folders, your inbox is no longer cluttered with message you don’t need to look at frequently.  You can check these messages when you have a spare moment rather than interrupting your day.

Initially some emails may be misfiled so it will pay to check these categorised emails and move them to an appropriate folder.  But once you’ve done that Gmail will remember and not misfile again.

Google has more information for you here  or you can watch the video here

So if this new way of organising emails is so helpful, why did people get so upset with Google? What did Google do wrong?

Google surprised people.  That’s what!

All Google needed to do was give its Gmail users some warning about its plans – and explain the benefits.

So many organisations forget to tell its people about upcoming changes.  Then the bosses wonder why staff are upset and productivity plunges – even if only temporarily – and it is so avoidable.

In my eWorkbook I explain that if you are going to change your  filing system, you need to communicate your plans to everyone concerned from the beginning of the process. That way there will be no surprises and your productivity will improve when the new system is installed.

If you don’t use Gmail and want some help managing your email, go to my earlier blogs De-mystify your email inbox and Good habits around email.

We can help you to set up folders in other email packages so you can focus on the important emails in your inbox.

You can read about more hints and tips to improve your business in my free eBook; and even more if you download the eWorkbook that gives you a full set of instructions on how to set up a filing system for your business.

Judy Owen has been working with businesses of all sizes and complexities for more than 20 years to improve and streamline the access to their business information.  She and her team can show you how to reduce risk, improve productivity and increase profits with good business systems and processes in your business.



Three options to grow my business

After many years of working with corporate and government organisations to organise their information resources so they are easy for staff to find and use, I’ve more recently turned to working with SMEs to assist them with organising their offices so that they can find the information they need when they need it.

When I started my business 10 years ago, the only advice I got was from my accountant who told me I needed to keep my financial records for seven years.  Nothing about how to keep them, what else I needed to keep (eg staff files) or how long I needed to keep them (apart from the financials!).

Two years ago I did some research and found that the situation for SMEs was much the same as it was 10 years ago.

So I created this business stream and now I specialise in working with individuals and small groups of people so they can get their email inbox under control, organise their electronic documents and sort out those piles of papers lying around the office.

Up till now I’ve been delivering this service personally and with one or two other specialists who I have contracted when I’ve needed them.  This approach is no longer sustainable unless I bring other people into the business.

It seems to me I have three options to grow my business and to give me an exit strategy.

  1. recruit suitable people to help me deliver a personal service
  2. develop training material for online delivery
  3. a combination of 1 and 2  by having training material for online delivery with personal service as backup support

I’m interested in your views on the options I’ve set out – are these viable? What other options could I consider? Please do let me know your thoughts.

Put your tools away at the end of each job

I was asked to speak to at a meeting of business people last week. The topic was how to organise your office and improve productivity in your business.

My talk featured email organisation and management, organisation of electronic documents and that perennial problem child – paper and how to keep it under control on your desk.

The topic attracted a larger audience than normal for this business forum! I think the idea of an organised office linked to improved productivity (and thus increased profits) was somewhat intriguing to the group.  Certainly there was a lot of discussion during the course of the meeting.

What I said resonated with many of the people in the group.

One chap had a particularly pertinent comment on how he manages his office.  He said that when he was a motor mechanic, he had a rule that he put all his tools away at the end of each job.  Now he is in business and mostly working in the office, he follows the same rule.  When he finishes a job he puts everything away, whether it’s preparing quote, getting tax information ready for the accountant or recruiting a new staff member.  When the job’s done the tools are put away. That is, all the paper is filed and the electronic documents are filed and closed; relevant emails are filed (as an electronic document) or deleted.  That keeps the inbox clean as well.

Now how simple is that?   It is something we can all use in our day-to-day office work.  And wouldn’t our desks be tidy at the end of each job and the end of each day!

The extra bonus is when you have a simple but effective filing system so you can put everything away and know you can find it again quickly and easily next time you are working on that particular job.

And the link to productivity? If you have an effective filing system you will save time every day because you won’t be scrabbling around looking for that supplier price list, your GST receipts, or the tender document you prepared but you can’t remember where you saved it.  You could save up to 30 minutes a day. That’s 2½ hours a week, more than 100 hours per year.  Think about how you could use that time.



A business idea transformed

When I first started working with small business owners to improve their filing systems, I thought the focus would be on developing systems and processes for organising paper files and electronic documents.

Very soon however I found that a lot of people wanted help to their email under control and I expanded my expertise to encompass email.  One client had over 5000 email messages in her inbox. She was so overwhelmed that she didn’t know where to start to deal with them – so she just left them to build up and tried to ignore them.

With my help and encouragement we set up folders for different types of email (by sender, by subject etc) and created rules to move new mail directly into these folders.  Then the client could see her email more easily and was able to deal with the messages in smaller groups. Within a week she had deleted more than 2000 messages and was well on the way to managing her email.

More recently I’ve become aware of issues people have with their home office. In fact I’ve just finished working with three clients, all of whom initially sought help with specific issues around storage of their office paperwork.  During the course of our discussions, they have all realised that they had started out with their home office using furniture from around the house or from secondhand shops.

These women have very successful businesses but they sense that their office space does not portray themselves as they would like. Even if they don’t have clients visiting their office, they want to feel professional when they are working out of their home office.

So what have they done?

One has begun turning what is effectively a converted bedroom into an office that looks much more professional and less like a bedroom simply by replacing some of the furniture that she had ‘found’ in other parts of the house with office furniture.

Another has replaced her dining table and student desk that she used for her laptop and work desk with and box on the floor for her files with an L-shaped desk and purpose built hanger for her vertical files.

The third realised that although she had been in business for a number of years, she didn’t really have good systems and processes for storing her papers, and even her stationery.  She was always scrabbling around looking for something and getting frustrated. She is now developing systems and processes for her office so she can find what she needs when she needs it.

These are examples of a business idea that had a very narrow focus at the beginning and that, as a result of client feedback, has spread into a wider range of services than I ever imagined. I’m listening to those clients and enjoying the challenge of working in this broader space.

Terrace Consulting – 10 years old

Its ten years now since I took the plunge and left the safe world of a regular salary payment to set up Terrace Consulting.

Terrace Consulting has taken me on an amazing journey.  I’ve met some wonderful people, some of whom I can now count as friends; I’ve had some exciting assignments; and most of all I feel I’ve made a positive difference to the way the organisations I’ve worked with have managed, accessed and stored their information.

It hasn’t always been an easy road for the people I’ve worked with as inevitably they have had to change the way they work.   The changes have come about largely by the changing way people who need information want to access it.  That has been heavily influenced by technologies.  No longer do people want to, or have time to, browse the library shelves or search the physical file stack.  Many people want information delivered to their desktop and want it NOW. “Google it” has become part of everyday language.

My biggest challenge has been to match the way the end users want to get information with the way the suppliers deliver it and to have a happy bunch of people at both ends of the process.  That  didn’t always happen.

A personal challenge has been to find a substitute for work colleagues to bounce ideas off and to keep up to date with current trends. That has been most interesting and very rewarding

So what is ahead in the next ten years for Terrace Consulting?

More of the same I have no doubt.  Also for some time now I’ve been aware that new businesses get little if any advice on how to keep good business records.

2012 will see the development of instructional advice on the Terrace web site, using a range of media, to small and medium business owners and managers on a range of record keeping and information management issues.  First off the block will be instructions on how to manage email – this seems to be the big issue for 2012.

Thank you everyone who have been part of this journey over the past 10 years. Without you I couldn’t have done it.  I hope you’ll continue to be on my journey from 2012.