How to cut down on email overload
Author: PM editorial | Date: 15 Mar 2017
There’s no need to groan every time you see your cluttered inbox in the morning
Many HR professionals start the day with a familiar groan when they sign into their email account and see how many messages they have to deal with.
It’s a common problem, says Cyrille Jégu, personal productivity coach, not least because the number of emails being sent continues to increase even as other technologies such as instant messaging become popular among business users.
“Often, we’re not focused,” says Jégu. “We move from one email to the next without making a decision about what to do.” If that sounds familiar, take heart: there are several simple steps you can take to clear out your inbox and keep it under control. The first step is to decide that you will handle each email only once. “Decide what to do straight away,” says Jégu. And remember that the delete button is your friend, he adds.
If the email needs immediate action that you can complete in less than two minutes, either send a quick reply or forward it to someone else for action. If it’s not as urgent, either delete it, file it for reference and later reading, or file for later action. For HR professionals, these deadlines could be linked to project goals, such as ‘new positions filled’ or ‘probation completed’.
For those with serious email backlogs of more than 1,000 messages, Jégu suggests putting everything that has arrived after a certain date – for example, three months ago or more – into an archive folder. You may never do anything with these emails, but you will still have access to them in case of need.
Then go through the remaining emails, starting with the most recent, and make an immediate decision about what to do with each one.
Jégu has helped many people empty their mailboxes and says it is a huge stressbuster when they see it is possible to do it: “You cannot imagine the relief they feel. The pressure goes down immediately when email is under control.”
To help keep your mailbox under permanent control, try to unsubscribe from mailing lists where possible, or set filters to organise incoming mail by sender or company to help prioritise responses.
There are cultural changes you can introduce into your routine that will also help: walking over to speak to a colleague about a problem can avoid getting drawn into a long email chain with them, while switching to instant messaging technology can also encourage more efficient conversations.
It’s worth remembering that email is generally far less effective than other more personal means of communication. “The best way to communicate is always face to face,” says Mohammad Irfan, executive director of Xpand Middle East, a sales and business development consulting firm.
“If this isn’t possible, make a phone call. The written word is considered less personal and less important, and you could find your letters and emails go unanswered for some time if you don’t at least follow up by phone. This is certainly the case with email. Some countries, like Saudi Arabia, don’t really do serious business by phone, so a personal visit is your only option.”