Today’s knowledge workers are at a crisis point. All of their communication is happening at rapid speed, but they’re still expected to do their best creative work that requires deep focus. Imagine trying to read a book at the same time you’re trying to write one? That’s the situation that employees find themselves in regardless if they work from home or if they’re back in the office. Experts originally said that technology in the workplace would give us more time off, but all it’s actually done is caused us to work even more. Email, especially, is a huge cause of stress for many people, so managing email overload can reduce a huge mental burden for many people.
Techniques to Manage Email Overload
When looking to reduce email overload, developing your plan of action will help you to be more productive at work, less stressed, and further your career. Managing email overload at work is a hard problem to deal with, but people can build up the tools and skills to view email as a productivity tool instead of a productivity drain.
Develop an Automated System
One of the challenges today is that we don’t control who can email us, so we need server-side tools that can help streamline an inbox. One such example is Spike’s Priority Inbox. Not all email messages are of the same importance, and they shouldn’t be treated as such by your email solution. Priority Inbox prioritizes your most important emails so they sit front and center while placing less importance on things like social media notifications, shopping receipts, etc. – and puts them into an “Other Inbox.”
If you don’t use Spike, look into other automated solutions that can help reduce the number of notifications and alerts you see from your email. Many email providers offer to filter emails based on sending, subject line, etc. One idea might be to tag any email that has Amazon in the subject with the tag receipt and then automatically archive it from the Inbox. If you get a daily newsletter from one of your favorite websites but don’t always have time to read it, apply the tag to read and then archive it. When you have time to read it, go to that folder.
After you build automations into your system, you need to decide how you want to use your Inbox. Some people use their Inbox as a “dumping ground” for things they’ve not yet dealt with. When emails arrive that you know will need a little more time to deal with, see if your email system has a star/pin functionality so you can keep it at the top of your inbox. If your email is something that you can’t work on until later, see if your email system has a Snooze functionality that will let you hide the email for some time, but then bring it right back at a time of your choice.
Each email system will be different, but the key is to look for ways to clean up your inbox either through automation or a manual system you build. For even more tips, check out our email hacks for people who love to save time.
Stop Checking Emails 24/7
If you’re above the age of 35, you probably remember someone in your house was getting up from the dinner table to answer the phone. Many dads would say this phrase: “The phone is for our convenience, not for everyone else”. Your email should be treated the same way. Email is a modern miracle, but don’t let it run your life. Email is a tool to be used. Unless you’re in a role where you are monitoring an inbox for communications from people, it’s not advisable to leave your email app open all of the time. When you need to focus on a project, close your email app and pretend it doesn’t exist.
You can also create email windows during your day where you check your inbox first thing in the morning, right after lunch, and then in the final hour of your workday. These windows will let you have a focused time to address any outstanding issues but will let you spend the majority of your workday in profound and creative thinking.
Stop Emailing so Much
It might sound counterintuitive to say stop sending so many emails to manage email overload properly. However, if you are dealing with email overload, it’s likely your coworkers are as well. Can you find your answer on a company wiki? Find it there using a search tool. Has someone sent you the answer before? Use your search functionality in your email system to find it instead of bothering someone else because you don’t want to take the time to look for it. Reducing email overload at work will take work on everyone’s part, so if you can stop sending even a fraction of the ones you send now, you’ll be making small steps towards reducing the number of emails each person on your team receives.
Set Expectations on Response Times
Our final tip on managing email overload at work is to set clear expectations on when responses should be expected. There is a big window between wanting a response right away vs. getting one a week later. At your company, set the expectation that all emails will be responded to within 24 hours even if it’s just an acknowledgment that the email was received. If the email requires more work on your part before you can give them what they’re asking for, then let them know why you’ll be delayed and when they can expect it.
Setting the expectations on response times will free people up from thinking they have to monitor their inbox 24/7. Expectations on response times are especially important when dealing with multiple time zones. If someone in the PST time zone in the US sends someone an email towards the end of the day EST time, the person on EST time shouldn’t feel the need to stay late to respond to emails from the PST people. In the same respect, PST people shouldn’t feel the pressure to wake up early to check their inbox for messages from EST people. Set a company policy for response times to take the pressure off everyone to be monitoring their inbox instead of working.
As you look to better manage email overload, follow our tips for developing an automated system. Closing your inbox, reducing the number of emails you send, and setting expectations on response times are simple ways to help reduce the burden that email places on your mental strain. Remember, email is a convenience for you just as the phone was to the parents of a previous generation! So implement our tips and get back to viewing email as a modern communication tool and not something your dread opening each day when you arrive at the office.
If you only implement one of our tips, building automation is the most effective way to reduce email overload. It’ll automatically decrease the number of emails arriving in your inbox each day.