Now I know that for many of you this may not seem like the most critical issue. But if you have too much email piling up in your inbox with no relief in sight, this post is for you.
Even a small amount of email building up can feel overwhelming at times, depending on the type of email. Especially if it keeps trickling in all day, with many requiring extensive follow-up. The trick is learning how to manage your email before it takes over your life!
1. Lower stress — accept yourself.
Curious what others were saying about email overload, I found this on a blog written by “The Chief Happiness Officer“. This point is especially important to remember whether about email or anything:
“First of all, I stopped wasting time berating myself for getting into this situation. If there’s one thing experience has taught me it’s that I’m the kinda person who lets a mess build and then cleans it all up at once.
I know other people are way more organized and get stuff done as they go (the bastards!) – but I’m just not one of them and I’m not going to waste time beating myself up over it.”
There are enough people out there in the world ready to blame us — especially if you have a competitive workplace. So rather than beating ourselves up, you may as well start by being gentle on yourself.
2. For goodness sake … answer people!
You may think not answering saves you time and emails, but odds are your silence will cause more emails to be sent. Others will need to contacted if a decision is needed or questions arise that require answers now. And more like this one will also pile up in your inbox: “Did You Get My Email?” or “We Lost an Account.”
I once worked with a man who was known for not responding to anyone. You were thrilled to actually hear back on anything — especially important stuff. He was fairly high up in the hierarchy, but he made the mistake of not answering two emails in a row from his superior.
It became a huge deal, and he made a life-long enemy just from doing that. Better to at least acknowledge an email, even if you don’t have time yet to answer. And that leads me to my next point:
3. Open emails from your boss.
Another case I remember, a woman was mad she didn’t get appointed boss. And so she pointedly didn’t open emails she received from her new boss. You could see her inbox filled with lots of already opened emails. And then in the middle of all the others were some from her new boss in bold black, still clearly unopened.
When her boss saw it, he went ballistic. Despite how good it felt to act out her anger, she was not helping herself in the least by her own version of a protest. Bosses can have very long memories. And hers did. Bad move on her part on so many levels.
BTW … even if you don’t like your boss, you’ll get further by showing respect. Believe me … you lose much more by seething in anger than you gain. You’d be better off turning your attention to shining in your own way so you’ll be at the top of the list the next time there’s an opening.
3. Use email sparingly at work.
Even if your inbox is not overflowing, others may have more than they can handle. So be considerate. Don’t just pass everything on to everyone else. Think about whether a person really needs to see it.
As a good business rule, mainly use email to plan and confirm meetings, send important material, clarify things you’d like a paper trail for, or clue someone into something they need to know for their job.
Of course, there are other things you can use email for depending on your relationship with the person. Certainly emails are great for sending a thank you for something the person did for you. Or letting them know you liked a presentation they made.
But please use discretion when it comes to jokes. Or even more personal stuff. If you aren’t sure, don’t send. Emails have a long life. And can be read by the email team in IT. I once knew a manager whose affair with a woman in another department got revealed by people in IT who didn’t like him.
4. Think carefully before forwarding!
I’m sure you’ve heard stories about people accidentally forwarding an email rant or secret about someone right to that person. Or to friends of the person. Or you may leave things attached from the original email that shouldn’t be seen by anyone else. Big no-nos!
And for those of you using blind copies … just be very careful, ok? I’ve seen those come back to bite people. Probably better to take the time to create a totally separate email if you really want someone to see it (or respond) without alerting others.
Better yet, keep away from the gossip and limit your email to work as much as possible. Not only does that cut down on the time you spend emailing, but it will help decrease new mail coming in. And may free up some time for other things — like at home if business email follows you there.
5. Pick up the phone.
Some things just don’t need an email. Of course, this depends on the other person. If they hate phone calls, well then e-mail is the right choice. But people seem to forget about the phone nowadays, even when a phone call would be appropriate.
I’ve seen too many examples where a simple point that could have been resolved by a discussion turns into days worth of emails. And maybe even risks getting blown up into something bigger than it ever needed to be.
Not only can phone calls (or quick visits) wind up being more efficient, but you are allowing yourself the chance to create better and more effective workplaces relationships. Email is so impersonal. Don’t hide behind it unless you want to remain unseen.
6. The art of email triage.
Most commonly used in medicine triage is “the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors.”
Well, that kind of fits when talking about too much email at work. There may be spam and just useless emails that can be trashed, but you want to maximize the survivors so you don’t accidentally get rid of something you should have kept.
Some tips to help:
- Create folders to help sort your inbox emails. Possible categories might be “Boss” “Urgent” “Important – Not Urgent” “Needs an answer” “Information only” (with sub-categories for projects and / or topics)
- Remember to actually check the folders. And get rid of folders that don’t help!
- Open each email and quickly place into appropriate folders.
- Go back and at least respond to the most urgent, even if the answer is you need time or contact another person. (Passing the buck isn’t always a cop out.)
- Have times of the day for making it through as many as you can within a limited time. Short but complete replies will save you back and forth in the long run. And I’m sure the recipient will appreciate less to read, too.
- If needed, schedule appointments for email time. I used to set daily extra half-hour “appointments” on my calendar for just me and my more important emails. At least when my schedule allowed.
- Also set aside a small block of time each day for the less urgent folders. You may simply decide which ones can wait longer, but if you can take care of it at that time, all the better.
- Once again, remember a quick call or pop-in can often save you a lot of unnecessary emails.
One more thing…
None of this is meant to take away from the hard fact that too much email is a growing concern. But even with texting rapidly gaining on it, email is still an essential business tool. It provides fast, efficient communication — with the very useful benefit of an easy-to-follow paper trail.
Just please … remember to think
before you send!
About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work To the Wise and Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development, as well as her many adventures as a serial job seeker.
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