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Three tips to finally get your work e-mail under control

Three tips to finally get your work e-mail under control

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The term "work/life balance" seems to imply that work and life are opposite forces that a person must balance against each other. But that dichotomy might sound a little absurd to people who set out to do what they love for a living, such as entrepreneurs who get a rush from launching a new venture. Still, while it sounds counterintuitive, it's possible that doing what you love all day can make you more likely to become stressed-out.

Constantly checking your work e-mail while out to dinner with your family or that "quick check" of your work messages that ends up taking hours on the weekends are two signs that your work life is overtaking your personal time. Creating separation between work and your personal life and developing good work habits can help you to respond more appropriately to the everyday stresses of your business.

For small business owners, stress lurks around every corner, in the form of problem clients, technical difficulties, and especially overwhelming amounts of e-mail. Ongoing operational stress can damage both your professional productivity and well-being, according to an article on the technology news website VentureBeat.

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"Stress causes me to spin my wheels," writes entrepreneur Jayson DeMers, "and gives me a feeling that every task – even small ones – are much more daunting than they actually are." Ultimately, he realized he needed a more holistic approach to reducing stress and restoring productivity. He worked on solutions for the obvious culprits, streamlining his e-mail processing and to-do lists.

While you'll always have problem clients and technical difficulties, you can more easily address your e-mail. Start with these three tips to get your e-mail under control.

1. Separate work and personal e-mail by using different inboxes and accounts: Multiple e-mail accounts might appear to increase complexity, but the clear separation makes it easier to focus your attention on work tasks during the day and on personal communication in your off-hours. With separate e-mail accounts, for example, it's relatively easy to set up your phone so that you don't receive alerts from work e-mail during the weekend, or from your personal e-mail during your busiest working hours.

2. Quickly skim and prioritize your inbox: One way to sort a full inbox is to read through your e-mail as quickly as possible, flagging any e-mails you need to answer right away; the rest can wait until later in the day. By prioritizing your responses, you know you're addressing the most crucial tasks, and that there are no urgent e-mails you're missing in your inbox.

3. Use folders and rules to respond appropriately: Whether you're using services like Gmail or accessing company e-mail through Outlook, try to reserve your inbox for messages from employees working directly under you and customers. To do this, set up separate folders and automatic routing rules for individuals, departments or task types. For example, you could create a folder just for e-mails from your marketing team, or only for invoices, purchase orders or daily reports. Folders and rules can help reduce your stress because they help you prioritize your communication tasks, and make sure your phone only sends you alerts for essential e-mails. Then set a time each day that you review and answer these other e-mails.In best-selling books and blogs, productivity and wellness gurus offer magic bullets to curb work stress, but striking out on your own or running a small business will inevitably bring stressful situations. To prevent ongoing operational stress and improve productivity and overall well-being, you may find it helps to keep aspects of your life a little separate.

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