“The average professional spends 28% of the work day reading and answering email, according to a McKinsey analysis. …. that amounts to a staggering 2.6 hours spent and 120 messages received per day” (How to Spend Way Less Time on Email Every Day, by Matt Plummer, HBR).
Enter email overload and overwhelm.
For that reason, a couple of years ago, I embarked on a goal – inbox zero. It’s actually not what it sounds like – a completely empty inbox, but rather one that has a small number, not a cringe-inducing, pull-your-hair-out, overwhelming number.
It took some time but wow, has inbox zero been worth it. Way less stress and way more saved time.
I’ll share my tips for handling email with you along with those of Matt’s (even when we disagree). Including my favourite tip that starts and ends with a boom.
Feel free to adapt the tips to your industry and individual needs!
Five tips for handling your email overload and overwhelm
1. Don’t overcheck your email.
Checking your email is an easy way to feel like you’re being productive but you’re actually not. “Over-checking email wastes 21 minutes per day. On average, professionals check their email 15 times per day, or every 37 minutes.” Limit your checking to as few times a day as possible. I check mine roughly four times a day.
2. Fancy folders or no go?
On the no-go side, Matt says “Using folders to organize and find emails wastes 14 minutes per day. Because professionals delay replying 37% of the time, finding messages that we’ve already read is a big part of the work of email processing.
Most people deal with this by creating folders for various subjects or people or types of messages and archiving accordingly. On average, people create a new email folder every five days and have 37 on hand. But this approach – clicking on folders to find what you need – is 9% slower than searching with keywords, or 50% slower when compared with searches using common operators (e.g., “from:firstname.lastname@example.org”).”
I’m team fancy-folders. I LOVE me my folders, especially when I need to see a group of emails related to the same topic. For example, I teach a course called How to effectively teach and present online while being cool, calm, and engaging a couple of times a year for the UN. There is a specific set of emails I need to send out. They’re all stored in a particular folder and voila, when it’s time to send them out, they’re easy to find and dispatch.
Fancy folders or no go – it’s your choice.
3. Pay attention to what you choose to read
“Reading and processing irrelevant emails costs us 8 minutes per day: According to data from Sanebox, 62% of all email is not important and can be processed in bulk” says Matt. Your brain is valuable landscape – pay attention to what you allow in it. Avoid the temptation to click and instead do mass deleting.
4. Get your inbox as empty as possible
“Full inboxes waste 27 minutes per day. When we check a crowded inbox, we end up re-reading emails over and over again. We can’t help it; if they’re there, we read them. On average, professionals have more than 200 emails in their inbox and receive 120 news ones each day but respond to only 25% of them.”
This has been a game-changer for me. On average my inbox has from 2 to 30 emails (a few more if I’ve been traveling or have been out of my office for a while). Having a pretty near empty inbox saves time as I don’t reread emails. And the actual spaciousness (looking at that empty space in my in-box), well, it just makes me feel great.
Let’s end with a boom(erang).
This isn’t on Matt’s list but it’s definitely my number one tip. Yes I saved the best for last. You know when you send an email to someone and you’re waiting for a reply, then life gets busy and you forget – did they reply, were they supposed to include a copy of that report, come to think of it, did you send the report? Imagine a similar situation for yourself.
Boomerang is your answer. I use it dozens of times a day. It will return an email to your inbox at a time and date of your choosing, with a note if you wish and if that’s not amazing enough, it will return it regardless or only return it if the person hasn’t responded.
Boomerang is a total sanity saver. It gets emails out of your inbox so you’re not tempted to recheck them (tip 1), it helps you strategize what emails are important to pay attention to (tip 3) and it helps reduce the emails in your inbox (tip 4).
BTW I use the paid feature for Gmail but there are free versions (without as many features) and there is a Boomerang for MS Office as well.
There you have it. Five easy tips for handling that persnickety email overload. I wish you and your email well.
Bonus tip: give yourself time. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was email overload and overwhelm solved in a day. Chip away at it bit by bit and you’ll see results.
Now go on and learn, learn some more, and lead
- For a couple more tech tools to help with email check out this blog post (it also has other must-have tech tools).
- Unlike this cat watching a horror film, don’t be horrified by your email inbox..
- Let me know which tips you try and how it goes. And also if you have any to add. I’m all ears.
Silke Pleus says
Awesome tips on what to do with my perpetually overwhelming email box. Now I just need some tricks on how best to get it done.
Lee-Anne Ragan says
Hi Silke- so lovely to hear your voice! Glad the tips resonated. I know right?! It can be hard to implement. Perhaps make a list of tasks and set a timer for 15 min or so a day. Good luck! You got this.