Inbox Overload – It’s up to You

Last week I suggested that organisations could and should do a lot more to reduce email overload, because as individuals we can only do so much – to make real change, we need concerted action and a common email culture.  Unfortunately, while we carry on “just about managing”, there is no real incentive for cultural change from the top.

But we can’t just sit and wait, and I know that my coaching clients often struggle with prioritising – they spend time on what appear to be urgent things (like the emails hitting their inbox) rather than the important things (like talking to their teams or developing strategy).

It is in human nature to want to have control, or at least influence, yet as far as emails are concerned, we are often in respond mode.  What can we do to enlarge our sphere of control over our inboxes?

Here are some tips on what we can do as individuals to take control of our inboxes and influence those who try to fill them up – and at the same time, we can be role models for others:

  • Set aside specific times of the day to look at your inbox, and let people know that if it’s urgent, they will need to call you
  • Don’t have notifications on your phone – only check it when you choose, not when others choose to send you something
  • When you open an email, deal with it straight away and practice the 4 Ds – either DO it, DELETE it, DELEGATE it or DEFER it. (Defer is for items that need more time and thought).
  • When you are working on something important, disable your email so you don’t get distracted – human beings love being distracted from hard stuff on to easier stuff, but it doesn’t get the important things done
  • When you are in meetings with others, avoid “phubbing” and put your laptop and phone away
  • Set up a folder for emails that you are copied on, and only look at it once a week and then you can probably delete it all
  • Avoid your inbox becoming your “to-do” list and keep the number of emails to the level you are comfortable with (for some people, this is none, others are ok with 100!)
  • For emails you want to save, set up folders for them with the same names as the folders you use for your work
  • Use Out of Office replies more often and when on holiday, include in your OOR that all emails sent while you are away will be deleted
  • Before you send an email, ask yourself whether email is the best method to communicate with this person on this topic? Maybe a phone call or face to face meeting would be better
  • Don’t conduct debates by email – it will turn into an argument. Go and see the person instead or pick up the phone or Skype
  • If you send three emails on the same topic to the same person, it’s probably time to talk

Finally, tell your colleagues what you are doing and create some bottom up pressure for change!