Category: Musings

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8 Ways to Conquer Email Overload

Email overload is a chronic state for many business owners and workers. From constant message alerts to non-stop back-and-forth question and answer sessions to neverending spam that gets through your filters, studies say the average person spends over a quarter of their day dealing with email. But that doesn’t mean it has to be this way. You know perfectly well there are better ways you can be spending your workday to increase business and get through your workload more efficiently. Let’s look at some ways to get that time spent handling emails down to a more reasonable amount.

Separate Work From Personal

This one should be obvious, but many people opt for just one email account for everything or occasionally mix in personal with business. You shouldn’t have any Groupon deals or Facebook friend alerts in your business email account. Leave personal distractions for later: your business account should have only the emails you need to deal with for your work.

Organize With Folders and Tags

Don’t simply separate your work and personal accounts, organize your work account as well. If you’re a small business owner, you have to wear many hats. Separate sales and client emails from co-worker and employee emails from contractor and service provider emails from bills and invoices, etc. This allows you to deal with just the emails you need to deal with right now and not have to be overwhelmed by the mass of other messages clogging up your inbox. I myself have about 10 different folders that I can check on an as-needed basis.

Schedule a Time For Email

Just because you can receive emails on your phone and read then on your desktop all day, doesn’t mean you should. Yes, a prompt response is usually expected but you have your own schedule to stay on top of and you need to stop dropping everything to reply to a message. Schedule two or three specific times in the day to deal with email, just like you schedule the rest of your tasks.

Set a Time Limit

Emailing can be infinite so not only do you need to schedule times to start checking emails, you need to set time limits to stop checking or writing emails once you’ve started. Schedule a small block of time and email only during those times. And be strict! Don’t fall into the “Let me just take care of one more message” trap.


It can be stressful knowing that co-workers, clients, or employees are sitting around waiting for your response. Consider adding an auto-response to your email account that tells people when you check your email, when they can expect a response, and how they can get in touch with you if it’s an emergency.

Unsubscribe From Junk

No matter how much we try, we over-subscribe to newsletters and updates and our email addresses end up on countless marketing lists. That cool housewares store’s newsletter seemed like a great idea at the time but deleting it every week takes actual time from your day. Handle unimportant senders immediately: Unsubscribe from their lists and nip it in the bud. A good tool for unsubscribing from many lists quickly is, a very simple little tool that can be quite effective at slowing the stream of junk to your inbox.

Create Template Emails

When you’re emailing clients, leads, project breakdowns, or anything else that you send out often, you’ll usually use the same stock wording in your message. Just like an automatic signature, create a few email templates to avoid writing the same things over and over again. Or check out the fabulous program ActiveWords that will substitute any text for a few simple keystrokes. This gives you even more fine control and virtually eliminates retyping of common responses.

Never Open The Same Email Twice

This is a big part of the Inbox Zero principle that is growingly popular on the web. When dealing with emails, it’s important to make a decision and act immediately rather than keep saving emails for later. By simply acting on each email immediately, your inbox will stop overwhelming you with stuff you needed to get to days or weeks ago. Keep your inbox clean and even retask it so that you’re dealing with things you really can easily take care of.

Test Everything – The 4-Hour-Workweek Way

Business decisions are tough, especially when you have to make them blindly. You wouldn’t pick a flavor of ice cream the same way, so why let the possible fate of your business rest on a guess? In the 4-Hour-Workweek, author Tim Ferriss talks about his need to test everything, not just the flavors at Baskin Robbins. By investing a small amount of money or time into split testing ideas, advertising, copy, content, marketing, and anything else, Ferriss never has to make a business decision on a whim. He has cold hard numbers to tell him where to go.

When Ferriss wrote his book, he focused largely on PPC ads for testing, but with sites like Twitter and Reddit becoming massive successes for users and marketers alike, you don’t even have to spend a buck on testing. Let’s take a look at all the parts of your business you can test.

Test Your Product

Is there a market out there for your product or service? There’s only one way to find out: put it out there and see if anyone wants to buy. Ferriss recommends doing this before you actually shell out a bunch of money to a manufacturer or suppliers. This means you can’t actually capture the orders or credit card info but you can see how many people are actually interested. If the numbers show a legitimate market, go for it. If not, maybe it’s wise to go back to the drawing board.

Test Your Headlines

Sometimes it isn’t the product, it’s how you sell it. Split testing headlines and slogans goes back to long before the internet, but with web tools like PPC ads, Tweets, and Reddit you can compare the success of different product headlines quickly, simply, and affordably. This comes down to simple numbers. No need to assume, go with the headline that generates more clicks.

Test Your Copy

Everything on your site and blog is a key element of your sales and marketing strategy. But is it effective? The best way to find out is to put it out there and see if you get any bites. Don’t look at your analytics as a measure of success, look at them as a road map that tells you what works and what doesn’t.

Test Your Marketing Strategy

In the past, businesses would pay thousands to get a focus group together and develop a marketing strategy around their target buyers’ needs and wants. Today, you don’t have to spend a single dollar to zero in on your target market and get their input on how to make the product work better for them. Hit the Twittersphere, Facebook, or even your email list and ask your users or potential customers what they want from your product – no more guesswork required.

Using Metrics The Right Way

When you test everything, you also need to measure everything. When split testing, there’s not much to it except comparing the number of clicks between A and B. When testing things like your website, your content, and your product, you need to look more on user behavior. Where are they clicking on your page? How long do they spend on specific pages? What page converts users to the next step and which page sees a huge bounce rate?

Your users will tell you everything you want to know about your product and strategy, you just have to find their answers.

Best Resources For Early Tech Adopters

Early tech adopters aren’t the people you see camped outside of an Apple Store a week in advance of a new iPhone. They’re the people who first saw how much emerging technologies like apps, tablets, and social media could do for their business and jumped on it. They’re the people that see emerging technology as something great and helpful, not scary and overwhelming. In a business world where technology is evolving faster than you can say “cloud-based business storage,” adopting new tools and applications can give you a big leg up on the competition.

You don’t need to be a tech geek to be on top of the emerging technology game, you just need to hang out at the same places as the tech geeks do. Here are the best online resources for becoming an early tech adopter.

TechCrunch: TechCrunch is THE place to find all the latest news on tech startups. Before Twitter became Twitter, before Square became Square, before Groupon was Groupon, it was all the talk on TechCrunch. Startups are becoming major companies overnight and there is no better place to keep tabs on the next big app than TechCrunch.

Gizmodo: While TechCrunch focuses mostly on applications and services, Gizmodo is all about the gadgets. Want to know if the iPad stacks up with the Samsung Tablet? The specs on the next big smartphone? How to optimize your MacBook for ultra-productivity? Gizmodo keeps you in the know about what cool toy all the cool kids will be playing with this fall.

Engadget: Engadget is very similar to Gizmodo but both are great blogs to keep track on all the latest hardware, peripheral tools, tech specs, and tech trade show news. They offer great in-depth reviews on all the latest gizmos without the boring tech jargon most of us don’t understand anyway.

BGR: BGR isn’t as big as the other blogs but it’s the place to go for everything mobile. BGR keeps track of all the latest trends, rumors, and business dealings of the big boys and offers a lot of predictions on what it all means. Aside from a ton of news, they offer a lot of commentary on how it affects you and your business.

Mashable: Social media is all of the rage and Mashable keeps you on top of all of it. The site is dedicated to helping your business make the most of the social media tools out there and offers a ton of news and tips on integrating big networks like Facebook, Twitter, G+, FourSquare, and Pinterest into your business strategy while keeping you informed on all of the emerging smaller networks and happenings.

All-In-One – Techmeme: If you want all the latest trends on these blogs and others, Techmeme rounds up all of the big tech stories onto one aggregated page. The site brings together big tech blogs, small niche blogs, and major news outlets all onto one handy and helpful run down of the biggest tech news and trends.

Stay on Top of Trade Shows: Before a product becomes the next big thing, it is unveiled at a tech show. Whether we’re talking about smartphones, tablets, gadgets, or applications, there is a trade show out there where tech entrepreneurs and marketers are trying to drum up interest in their upcoming release. If you know what are the biggest draws at trade shows like CES and IFA then you already know what the biggest draws will be once those products are released to the public.

Use Your Customers To Improve Your Product or Service

There’s no need for guesswork or highly-paid consultants to find the best ways to improve your service, product, or customer experience. Instead, you need to go right to the source. No matter what industry you’re in, your goal is to a) sell and b) make the customer experience as good as possible so you can… sell some more. The old adage “The customer is always right” applies to nothing more than it does to learning how your customers use your product and what they want to gain from it.

Unlike the past, when you’d have to gather a focus group together to gain any kind of insight into your customers’ minds, your customers are available to you via Twitter, Facebook, and Email at all times. Don’t waste their opinions, learn from them – they’re the experts when it comes to buying and using your service or product.

They are already talking about you. Sometimes you don’t even need to ask customers directly – they’re likely already talking about you on the web. See what people are saying in online discussions and on social media sites about your product as well as your competitors’ products. If you see a trend in positive comments or reviews, you’ll get a better idea of your strengths. If you see a trend in negative comments or reviews, you will instantly discover ways that you can improve your product or user experience.

Use your social network for something other than marketing. Too many businesses are lost when it comes to using Twitter, much less getting the most from their followers. People who follow or like a product or company are very likely to help you make it better for them. While marketing is important, the information you can get from loyal users is invaluable to your business.

Go right for the inbox. This is another case where businesses focus too much on sales and not enough on interacting with a loyal customer base. If they’re subscribed to your newsletter, they are interested and want to make the most of their product. Just like followers or Facebook fans, these are the real experts in using your product or service. Use your email newsletter to seek out beta testers, ask users to fill out surveys, or just request any general feedback to get anecdotal accounts of what it’s like to be on the customer end of your business.

Do it all the time. Since there’s no need to round up a focus group, the entire internet becomes one big focus group. Keep soliciting feedback, particularly in the early stage of your business. Early on, you’ll focus largely on qualitative data – users describing the pros and cons of their experience, problems they are having, etc. As your user base gets larger, you will need to go bigger scale and focus more on surveys and learning user behavior through in-depth analytics.