Put communication guidelines in place. When people don’t know who to copy, they tend to copy everyone. And then reply all takes over, which means you just got 20 messages in your inbox that you don’t need. If there are certain people or teams you regularly communicate with, then plan a time to sit with them and map out who should be in the “To” and “Cc” fields for your most common topics. Write it down and make sure everyone has a copy. As new people come in to the team, make sure they have a copy, too. Yes, this takes some planning on the front end, but the daily time-savings will more than make up for it.
Send fewer emails. Remember that the more emails you put out there, the more emails are going to come back to you. Plus, let’s face it - certain topics or situations just aren’t good for email. They result in an unproductive flood of messages that weigh down both you and your coworkers. Before you start writing, ask yourself:
- Will my message spark more questions than I can preemptively answer in my email? If so, you may be setting yourself up for an email deluge, especially if the message is to a group of people. Instead, try to actually talk things through with the person/group. You can always send a recap for documentation afterwards, if needed.
- Is there confusion or a misunderstanding between me and the reader? If so, email often isn’t the best choice. Something simple could potentially be addressed, but a lot of times it’s much easier to have a quick conversation with the person. Plus, it’ll save you the time of writing a painstaking explanation that still potentially falls short.
If you regularly receive reports or newsletters that aren’t time sensitive, set up a rule so that they bypass your inbox. That way, you never have to take the extra step of seeing or handling them in your inbox. You can check them out when it makes sense for your schedule.
If you are on distribution lists that are no longer relevant, take a few minutes to unsubscribe. It may not seem like much, but every time you keep hitting “delete” for these messages, you are losing time that adds up. (Don’t believe me? A study by the Danwood Group found that it takes an average of 64 seconds to recover from an email interruption.) Make a 15-minute appointment with yourself every six months to do this kind of cleanup.
Our jobs evolve. People come and go. Given how much change we experience, it’s unrealistic to think that we can get rid of email overload once and for all. (So stop pressuring yourself already!) It’s an ongoing battle, but you can stay on the winning side by putting these habits in place.
Do you have a favorite tip for avoiding email overload? Share it in the comments!