You have to pick and choose what you think is going to be relevant to yourself… you can get cc’ed into so many emails that are nothing to do with yourself whatsoever. And there’s the key problem with email. The message that might contain the single most important thing you need to know all year, could well disappear into the landfill that is your inbox.
“Email overload is causing people to get ill,” says Cary Cooper, organisational psychology professor at Manchester University. His research has found that higher email load is associated with higher workload stress. “The problem is there aren’t good guidelines on what is the best use of email and the things we should not do,” he says.
Email Overload Isn’t Really About Email
Email overload is really just a symptom of a much larger issue – either on a personal level or with corporate protocols. On a personal level, not having standards with how email is managed leads to a constant review of the inbox while trying to work on other more pertinent projects. Every time you hear a “ding” on your phone, you zone off from the task at hand into something completely different.
So, your email transforms from a simple communication tool to a distraction.
For corporations with unclear communication guidelines, the inbox becomes a dumping ground for every thought, idea, meeting request, note, memo, and corporate communication – to the point where everything gets buried and nothing is important.
Can you remember the last time you lost something important in your inbox, and wasted precious time searching and sorting through email threads trying to find a simple piece of information? It likely wasn’t that long ago.
It also creates a vicious cycle. When you get stuck trying to manage a backlog of emails then your response time drops dramatically. This leads to additional follow up emails which just adds to the chain of noise.
Whether from a lack of corporate control or personally mismanaged time, there are plenty of ways to get caught up and manage the torrential flow of email going forward.
Tip #1: Write Shorter Emails
A good way to get crushed by email overload is to spend too much time responding to each person. Naturally, you want to make sure your communication is understood, but taking the time to explain every detail assumes that your recipient won’t understand even the most basic instructions.
Save yourself a lot of time and keep your emails short and sweet. Write in short sentences, avoid fluff, and use bullet points to get the idea across quickly.
Tip #2: Don’t Use Reply All
Hitting “reply all” when it’s not necessary just populates everyone’s inbox with unnecessary emails, especially if your response is only intended for one person, or a select segment of the group in the email.
It can also elicit a lot of unnecessary responses with people weighing in that don’t really need to reply. That fills your own inbox with additional emails that you need to waste time managing and removing.
Tip #3: Stop with Follow Up Emails
It’s great that you want to be polite, but not every email needs to have a follow-up. Emails that contain little more than polite responses to signify that you received an email aren’t necessary. You don’t need to acknowledge every email you receive. While it may seem friendly, it only wastes your time.
Tip #4: Consider a Social Intranet
If the majority of your employees communicate via email it leads to email overload for everyone. You can replace company-wide, and department-specific distribution lists by switching over to a social intranet.
Platforms like Salesforce have social integration to make communication easier so teams don’t get buried in emails constantly. You’ll find similar functionality in many project management systems. Not only can this help control email overload, they can be used to make processes more efficient as you streamline communications.
Tip #5: Stop Flashing Your Email Address
If your email is valuable to you, and you’re aware of email overload becoming a problem, then limit who has access to your email address. If it’s readily available on your website, business card, social channels, article author bios and more, then pull it. That’s like flashing money in the street.
Give people your email address and that will be the way they choose to reach out and contact you. You can control email overload by controlling the communication channels you leave open for people.
Tip #6: Stop Being Polite
If you’re getting unsolicited emails in an already busy account, don’t be afraid to tell people not to contact you. Don’t be shy about who you do and do not want to receive emails from. A pushy sales rep will continue to reach out to you unless you make it very clear that you don’t want to hear from them.
“I am not interested in your service/product. Please don’t use this email in the future, it is for important business only.”
Tip #7: Implement Social Chat
If you don’t want to invest in a major platform like Salesforce, you can always use a simpler communication alternative besides email. A tool like Slack or Fleep lets your teams communicate with one another in archived discussions without jamming up inboxes.
It’s also much easier to follow, archive, and search discussion threads. At Tallyfy, we use Slack to communicate among our individual teams and rarely need to rely on email save for the most critical updates.
Tip #8: Use Inbox Management Software
There are a lot of tools that’ll make managing your inbox a lot easier. Unroll.me, for example, allows you to bulk up all the promotional Emails in one single Email, or unsubscribe from each newsletter with a click.
Sanebox, on the other hand, splits the Emails into two categories: important or personal VS promotional. The first kind you get ASAP, the later in daily email re-caps.
For more Email management software, check out our complete list of the best tools on the market.
Tip #9: Keep Your Work Email Work-Only
Treat your email like a locked, password-protected gate allowing direct access to you. You wouldn’t give every person you meet a key to just walk into your house and interrupt you, so don’t treat your email the same.
Setup a throwaway account you can use for any groups, lists, and general communications. This way your primary email is only used for the most important of business matters. You can check your throwaway account at the beginning or end of the day when it won’t interrupt your normal workflow.
Tip #10: BLUF
BLUF stands for “Bottom Line Up Front”. Get the main point across in your email and start working with employees to get them to practice the same formatting. This is great for detail heavy emails and makes it easy for someone to skim the email and get the point without having to read hundreds of words to understand the purpose of the email.
This will help your employees, and you, spend far less time sorting and reviewing emails.
Tip #11: Use Email Templates
Don’t waste time writing fresh responses to every email you receive. More than likely, the same email is sent fairly often to users, employees, leadership, customers, etc. Generate email templates that are stored and can be customized for the recipient.
So, create a template for any specific situation which just needs a tiny bit of personalization. This’ll end up saving a lot of time for you and your employees, allowing you to focus on what’s important.
Tip #12: Block Out Time for Email
If you’re the type to drop what you’re doing every time your email goes off, then you should consider designating time for email in blocks throughout the day rather than letting it constantly interrupt your workflow.
Review it when you arrive at work, then check it a few times idea in small time blocks. Don’t sweat missing anything critical. If it’s an emergency, they’ll follow up quickly with a phone call, or bypass email and call you anyway.
To make sure you hold up to this, you can try using BatchedBox, a tool that bulks up all the non-urgent Emails together and sends them to you at specific times per day.
Tip #13: Stop Relying on Email for Workflows
It’s fairly common to drop follow up emails on projects and move to the next steps via email updates. This is a good way to lose tasks, miss events, and spend far too much time digging through email threads for details.
All it takes is one missed email to grind a process to a halt.
Use a tool that helps to automate processes and create approval workflows. With more automation, projects continue to move forward without the high volume of emails going back and forth to track the steps of each process.