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How to manage your email overload at work

Clare Baker

Clare Baker | HR Director

Friday 25th Jan, 2019

It is estimated that over 269 billion emails are sent worldwide everyday – that’s quite a statistic and it may feel on occasion like most of them are ending up in your inbox! As more and more of us are set to work remotely this is only likely to increase.

Using email can be an extremely useful communication tool, its fast and can be less intrusive than a phone call. It’s easy however to spend most of your day responding to emails to the detriment of other more important matters. Is writing an email the most productive use of your time and is it always the best way to communicate because when used inappropriately can it actually hinder productivity?

Let’s face it how many times have we sent emails when we could simply ask the person sitting a few desks away? It also means more human interaction, which can only be a good thing right? And extra steps on your Fitbit.

Here are some tips to help you reduce this burden, improve productivity and streamline your internal communications.

  1. Use a system
    Filtering your inbox can allow you to prioritise messages needing a response straight away, those that can wait until you have completed more important task and those that are for information only and require no action (those emails you are cc’d into).
    Creating rules or automated filters is an effective way of reducing admin time and taking back control of your inbox.

    One useful method is the “five folder” strategy:
    a. Inbox: treat this as a holding pen. Emails should not stay in here any longer than it takes you to file them into another folder. The only exception may be where you have responded immediately and are awaiting a reply.
    b. Today: items that need a response today
    c. This week: for those messages that need a response by the end of the week
    d. This month/Quarter: everything that requires a longer term response
    e. FYI: for information only and for future reference

    This systems prioritises based on timescale rather than sender, enabling you to better schedule work and deadlines.

  2. Set email “windows”
    Constantly and immediately checking our emails when they arrive prevents us from focusing on the work we should be doing. It’s clear that when you change focus from one task to another it takes a significant amount of time to refocus and this time will quickly add up if you are continually checking emails throughout the day. By setting periods of time to check and deal with emails you will be much more productive. This may not suit everyone but if you get into the habit and others do it will help, if it’s urgent – call and others will learn to do the same for you.
  3. Change your email habits
    Think before you send an email – do you really need to send it – would it be better answered with a quick discussion? This takes a bit if dedication as its changing a habit (21 days it’s reckoned) but the reward will be a reduction in the number of emails you are sending and so receiving, and will reduce stress levels and increase your productivity. Let’s face it how many times have we sent emails when we could simply ask the person sitting a few desks away? It also means more human interaction, which can only be a good thing right? And extra steps on your Fitbit.
  4. Set expectations
    Do you receive emails out of working hours and do your co-workers send you emails regardless of the time or location assuming you will reply? To reduce this set clear boundaries and expectations. There’s no need to lay down the law just explain simply that you will not be responding to emails outside office hours. The work you produce is a much powerful indicator of your abilities, commitment and productivity than answering emails out of office hours. 

Email overload is frustrating, distracting and can divert your attention from more important stuff. The 2017 Annual Consumer Email Report suggested that email users were becoming smarter in their email habits so there may be light at the end of the tunnel. Take action now and make your life easier!

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