I find that the amount of time that I spend answering emails continues to grow, and has continued to grow since the introduction of that platform in 1972. Thanks Ray Tomlinson. I’ll email you my personal thanks. And if I find where you live… Heck, before starting to writing this article I spent the previous hour reading, answering and forwarding work emails.
Who hasn’t felt the satisfaction of emptying their inbox by rifling through and responding (REPLY ALL!) or forwarding emails and then deleting them from your inbox. Or felt the stress of opening email and seeing 200 new ones.
Emailing is not productivity.
I sometimes wish that sending and replying to emails was accompanied by physically poking the recipient (or sender) in the eye. In this way, you (or they) would be keenly aware of the pain you (or they) were inflicting by simply flinging emails out to others. And answering emails rarely is an end to a workflow. Emails beget emails beget emails beget… (Proverbs: 110: 1-16)
Emails are used as replacements for meetings, and too many meetings is something I ranted about in the previous article. And emails have come to replace phone or face-to-face conversations. I’ve experienced my next door cubicle neighbor sending me an email that could have been solved with a five-minute visit. Things are in a sad state of affairs.
So I mulled and mulled and tried to come up with some ways to avert email overload.
I recalled once where I inadvertently deleted all my emails from my inbox and you know what? Nothing bad happened. The people who needed something from me simply re-emailed or (or, [gasp!] called me).
Things I Have Tried
To help, here are some actions we took related to email overload that me and my team has tried over the years to varied success:
- We tried “no email” mornings where the management team agreed that between 8:30am and 11:30am, we were not going to send each other emails.
- We introduced a mechanism with subject line pre-fixes that provided information on the content of that email without you having to open it. For example:
- “AR” means “Action is Required of you”
- “PF” means “Print and File”
- “NRN” means “No response necessary”
- “FYI” means, well, “NRN”, but “NRN” was a strong suggestion NOT to respond
- We had an email etiquette class to remind people how and when to write emails.
All of these provided a modicum of relief, but because we could not control what others did related to email we were still inundated.
So to wrap up this short article, here are some suggestions and guidelines that I think you ought to strongly consider:
- Peel off people from emails that are not key or are not expected to provide input. There have been countless times in endless email “chains” where I’m CC’d and dragged along in the wake of the conversation. Some parts of the conversation are just “yep” or one sentence that continues to pull me along like a minnow in a paper eddy. Just drop people off, especially executives from the To: and CC:.
- If you’re CC’d – avoid the temptation to respond. Technically, as a cc:’d recipient, the intent should be to advise you rather than gather your feedback.
- Keep your emails very short. No more than one paragraph. Writing long emails simply forces people to speed read and skip potentially vital content. Tighten and re-tighten the language. Less is more, more or less.
- Do not send inflammatory emails. Emails, like regrets are forever. And you don’t want to leave evidence of your unstable personality for all to read at some future performance review session.
- As a corollary to the previous item, if you do find the need to send a strong email, don’t send it and instead save it for an hour (or a day if possible). Read it again at that time and you may find that a) things have changed and thus there is no need for your email, b) things have changed for the better and your email now seems silly, c) you really should not have sent that email at all, d) you don’t really care about the topic as much as you really thought at the time. Ambivalence is a strong and often rewarding emotion.
- Immediately un-subscribe from junk emails. Hit the “Junk” and then the “Block” buttons on your toolbar on spam emails.
- Setup rules by recipient to move emails from less important people (or informational emails) to a separate folder — that you probably then will never visit. Then setup rules that periodically empty out these folders.
- Before sending any email, pick up the phone and call the person. You may get your answer right away. [Note: the worst is when someone emails you and then picks up the phone to discuss the email they just sent you. “Justifiable homicide” comes to mind.]
- Proofread your emails. So many times I have received emails that appeared to be written by someone who didn’t understand verb tense, punctuation, correct forms of possessiveness, oh, the English language, etc.
What have you done to help assuage the tidal wave of emails? Email me and let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update 7/20 –
- The inclusion of the email addres at the end was an attempt at irony. My thanks to the readers who said “hey, you know that you included your email address, right?” Yes, I do.
- Another annoying thing was suggested by a reader. Let’s call him Peter. That would be:
Having a long email chain forwarded to you simply with “FYI”, forcing you to read the entire chain – and then finding out you were already on the TO: or CC: anyway! Ugh!!