Did you know that office workers on average spend a third of their time at work reading and answering emails?
According to a survey by the McKinsey Global Institute, office workers spend 2.6 hours per day reading and answering emails.
For many people, it’s likely much more than that.
With mobile phones, and the culture of being “always on” at work, I’d be surprised if the number of hours spent in email wasn’t actually much higher.
For some people, making sure their inbox is always at zero is an obsession. For others, they don’t mind that clutter.
Either way, we need to learn how to tame email. The constant emails are doing damage to your health and your productivity.
Emails Cause Stress
Your emails are stressing you out, whether you realize it or not.
A few years ago, Gloria Mark, a professor at University of California, Irvine, ran a study where she cut workers off of email completely for one week and gave them heart-rate monitors to see how it affected them.
Completely ignoring emails significantly reduced their stress levels.
Also, a study called “Computer in Human Behavior” found that checking your email more will induce more stress.
Emails Hurt Your Productivity
Those constant notifications and opportunities to check your email are distracting you from your work.
There are enough distractions at work as it is, between your boss popping by for a “quick visit” or coworkers interrupting you for help.
In another study done by Gloria Mark, she found that when you’re interrupted on a task “it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task”.
So let’s look at some simple ways to manage your email overload.
Email Management Tips
If you want to get your sanity back and be incredibly productive, you need to learn how to manage your email.
Cut Down On The Emails You Receive
The first step to managing email overload is to clean up all the useless junk that’s in there.
One idea could be to create a separate email address specifically for those promotional emails and check it once a week or something.
Personally, I use a service called Unroll.me to roll up all of the email subscriptions I’m on and have it organized into a folder for me.
Two tools that can help you with this:
Send Less Email
To receive less email, you need to send less email.
Overall, you want to use email a bit less. Use it only when you need to. Face-to-face communication or phone calls will often solve an issue much faster than an email chain.
Once you start including all of the CC’s and BCC’s, you can see why sending less email (and just getting out of it) makes sense.
Don’t CC Everybody
In fact, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, a company called International Power in London was able to reduce the number of emails on the executive team by 54% just by asking everyone to think twice before forwarding or CCing people.
From the article:
At International Power, the executives were asked to think twice before forwarding email or including multiple recipients.
The initiative, detailed in a forthcoming issue of the Harvard Business Review, led to a 54% drop in the number of emails sent by the executive team. The company’s 73 other London-based employees began following suit, even though they hadn’t received specific instructions. Their drop in output was 64%. Ultimately, the company gained 10,400 hours annually, freeing them up to work on bigger, more important projects.
Check Emails On A Schedule
The best productivity hack for emails is to block out specific time to check your emails instead of going back and forth all day.
There are two email clearing concepts that I want to share with you.
The first one, is from author James Clear, and the second one is from leadership expert Kevin Kruse.
What James told me was that one of his best tricks for managing email was not to check email before noon.
His reason was that in the morning, when our energy is the highest, we should focus on ourselves instead of shifting our focus to other people’s problems.
I love how simple and powerful this tip is.
The second tip was from a webinar that I did with Kevin Kruse. He calls it the 3-2-1 system.
Check your email three times a day (morning, mid-day and evening), and then take 21 minutes to clear and respond to as many emails as possible.
It makes clearing emails into a fun game and helps you power through them like a pomodoro.
Here are the slides from the webinar I did with Kevin:
Use Collaboration Tools
With tools like Slack becoming even more popular, email overload should become easier, in theory.
We use Slack at our office, but I’ve found that I still get an unusual amount of email.
If anything, things have become more confusing because now I have two places to constantly check.
If you do use communication tools like Slack, it’s important to set boundaries with your team about when to use what when.
Be Concise, But Smart
Many people write about the need to be concise and to keep your emails short and to the point.
I completely agree with that, but I also think it’s important to be smart and clear with your emails.
How often does an email chain like this happen:
YOU: Free to meet?
THEM: Sure, when?
YOU: How about Tuesday at 11?
THEM: I’m busy Tuesday, how about Thursday?
YOU: Can’t Thursday, what about next Monday?
Be clear to avoid any back and forth. In your original email you could have given a few options of when you’d be available, or use an app like Calendly to let the other person see when you’re free.
Turn Off Notifications From Your Phone
Part of freeing yourself from your inbox is setting up boundaries of when you can be checking email or not.
There are a few important reasons why you want to do this.
- You don’t want to appear “always on”
- You want to maintain a good work-life balance
Use Tools To Help You
There are many powerful tools out there to help you manage email overload.
Here are a few, but there are likely many more that I just don’t know about.
How Do You Manage Email Overload?
Let us know your tricks in the comments below!