As charges continue to swirl around hedge fund SAC Capital, Steve Cohen has put forward a novel defense: He couldn't possibly have acted on a trading tip emailed to him because he is so swamped with emails, he ignores most of them. In fact, Cohen alleges he reads just 11 percent of the 1,000 emails he gets a day.
That may help Cohen, but for other business leaders that kind of inattention could be deadly. Here's some advice on how to get a grip before your inbox gets the best of you.
Those emails sitting in your inbox -- all 522 of them? Each is a decision you need to make, says Alex Moore, CEO of Baydin, a San Francisco-based email productivity software company.
"The quicker you handle them, the more effective you can be," says Moore. "Email reflects how much we have to do and an inbox with hundreds of emails is counter-productive. Too many people use their inbox as a revolving to-do list, but that's not a good way to keep track of things. Instead, each email should be considered as a decision to be made. It should be handled, deleted or archived."
In January, Baydin launched ReviveYourInbox.com, a free three-week program that offers skills and methods to help tame overwhelming email inboxes. To date, about 20,000 people have gone through the program.
"The people who finish often tell us it changed their life," says Moore. He shares the first five techniques small-business owners can use to reduce the amount of email they receive and better handle the emails that matter:
1. Disable notifications.
The first step to taking control of your inbox is to disable the notifications that interrupt and distract your day. Checking your email might seem harmless, but Moore says a case study by Loughborough University found that it takes an average of 64 seconds to fully recover from being interrupted by an email.
Unless your job demands replies within minutes, Moore says you should check your inbox two to three times a day, preferably for fixed amounts of time.
2. Unsubscribe from junk emails.
It may seem easy to delete junk email as it comes in, but according to Moore, deleting a newsletter every day for the next year will consume over 30 minutes. And when important emails are mixed in with unimportant ones, it's easy to lose track of the ones that require action.
3. Learn how to search email.
Important message seem to hide from you when you go looking for them. Instead of using folders, Moore suggests learning about the search terms offered by many email providers. His program offers a list of basic search keywords, including "has:attachment" which will search for messages that have files attached to them; "before:" which brings up messages sent before a date; and "filename:" which will take you to emails with attachments.
Related: How to Cut Your Inbox by 60 Percent
4. Adopt an archive mentality.
To best manage your inbox, archive messages you no longer have an immediate need for to another folder. Under this system, only two types of messages stay in your inbox: messages that you haven't read yet and a small number of messages that need prompt attention. Everything else moves to a single archive folder. When needed, emails can be easily located using search terms.
5. Clean out older messages.
After you have a system in place to effectively handle new emails, it's time to clean up the emails that were in your inbox before you started. Anything more than 30 days old can be archived without reviewing. If you discover you need it, you can search the archive folder. Handle the remaining email a little at a time over the next few days. Go through each one, and respond, archive or delete. If you have hundreds of emails, divide them into batches.
"Email should be a tool that supports your business," says Moore, "not one that detracts from it."
This is an update of a piece originally published on April 3, 2013. See the original article here.