Email overload – How can you effectively avoid it?

email overload

Email overload!
Image: 3dfoto/ Resource: www.bigstock.com

Do you suffer under email overload?

Are you a business leader and process more than 100 emails on daily basis? Then you are making a mistake!

Your email habits reveal whether you are true leader or simply an overburdened micromanager. It is under your direct control.

To lead is to determine the direction, to maintain control and to inspire employees. You can only achieve this if you focus on the important issues and rigorously delegate tasks.

This also means that you should not be informed about everything at any time of day. You should also not be controlling all transactions in your company.

Why do so many managers suffer from email overload?

The question is: Why do so many managers constantly read their emails? I think these managers are afraid they might miss something. Or they may feel the need to demonstrate that they are constantly reachable. What a bunch of nonsenseand what a waste of time!

I am actually aware of general managers who expect their employees to respond to an e-mail after no more than 20 minutes. These are the same general managers who process e-mails during meetings on their laptop or their Blackberry.

What is the point of this? If brain research has taught us anything in recent years it is thatmulti-tasking is neither effective nor efficient. I can either process my emails, or I can participate in a meeting! If the meeting is not important, why the hell is the leading manager present at the meeting? If the meeting is useless, why not cancel it?

When you should read your emails

Simple rule: Only read your emails at fixed times, once or twice a day, for example at noon and at 4:00 p.m. Otherwise, your email software should be shut down. – And turn off the email notification sound on your mobile phone!

I assure you: Urgent and important issues will not be sent by e-mail. If someone has an urgent matter for you that is also important, they will always contact you in person, or they will call you or your administrative staff. Believe me: You will not be notified by email if your house is on fire.

How to process your e-mails efficiently

I find David Allen’s “Getting it done”, or GTD method for processing e-mails very helpful. The idea is to keep your incoming mail folder as empty as possible. It is often refered to as “Get an empty inbox!” or “Inbox zero”. The underlying principle behind this:

Take the following steps when processing your e-mails:

1. “Doing”
Read the email. If the e-mail you have just read requires you to perform an action, and this action will require less than 2 minutes, then take care of it right away!

2. “Delegate”
If an action is required, but you are not necessarily the one to handle the matter, then delegate the task.

3. “Delete or file”
If processing the email will require more time, then place it in your To-Do folder. If no action is needed, but you want to keep the email, then save it to another folder. Otherwise delete the e-mail immediately.

This approach has the following advantages:

  • You only need to process our emails once or twice a day.
  • Each email is only opened once.
  • You inbox is orderly and largely empty.

How to receive fewer e-mails and escape email overload

According to Prof. Jacob Palme, it takes 4 minutes on average to write an email, but only 30 seconds to read an e-mail. Therefore, if every email had only a single recipient, people would spend 90% of the time allotted to email with writing and only 10% on reading.

But the reality is completely different. Many emails are not only sent to one, but rather many, and some even to a large number of recipients.

You should therefore change the email culture in your company! Let your employees know:

  • Stop sending “CYA” e-mails!
    If you have established a leadership culture based on trust in your company, then your employees should not feel the need to constantly send e-mails with a host of “CC” and “BCC” recipients.
  • Avoid the button: “Reply-to-all”!
    There is rarely a need to “reply-to-all” when responding to the original e-mail.
  • Only reply if really neccessary!
    E-mails should only be replied to if it is really necessary. Forwarding should be well considered!
  • Don’t expect a reply on the same day!
    Nobody should expect that an e-mail receives a reply on the same day!

And for your personal use:

  • Cancel all newsletters that you do not read anyway!
  • Do not send emails with an automatic read confirmation!
  • Always keep in mind: The fewer emails you send, the fewer emails you will get.
  • Let your employees know that you only want to receive important information by email.

How to write an email

If you want to avoid email overload, formulate your emails politely, but be brief, clear and precise. An email should best only contain one topic. The topic should be clearly stated in the subject field. This ensures that the purpose is clear without opening the email.

A well formulated subject entry is:

“Meeting possible on 01/30/2012?”.

However, a less helpful subject entry would be:

“Meeting proposal”.

Direct conversation instead of email

With an email there is always the danger that the recipient may misunderstand your intentions, your ironic comment, or the context. This can result in problems or unnecessary escalations.

Some email exchange can get out of control this way. This leads to frequent back and forth. It would be better instead to seek a face-to-face exchange or to briefly call by telephone, and to resolve the issue.

Emails cannot replace direct conversation! Always ask yourself:

“Would it be easier to solve my problem in a personal conversation?”

If so, simply pick up the phone or meet the person directly. I assure you: This is an important point to avoid email overload.