Email Overload

I’ve been struggling with this one for awhile now. In my old job, I remember finding some solace once I developed a routine of only checking my email twice a day (once before noon & and once more before heading home). But the pace of email overload seems to have tripled in the last year and I find that even in taking one day off means with almost 100% certainty that I’ll have 80+ emails to comb through.

In most cases CCs and FYIs make up almost 50% of my Inbox's unread entries and it makes me wish that there were easier protocols to separate the “Need your approval” and direct “to me” messages from those that are merely professional information courtesies meant for later consumption.

An old colleague I know well uses “email free Fridays” to help add some levity to his week. I’m seriously (very seriouuuuusly!) considering adopting this strategy in order making way for some much needed productive office time. But I’m wondering if there may be other options… how about you? How to you cope with email overload? Are there protocols that your organization uses to help make the work week more productive?

Read Lost in E-Mail, Tech Firms Face Self-Made Beast, NYTimes 06.14.08


Anonymous said...

I am a huge fan of David Allen and the GTD approach. Process email only once and don't use your Inbox as a tasklist.

I cannot believe the number of unnecessary CCs I am part of. I delete most of them.

I am preparing email etiquette training and plan to cover this heavily. When does an email actually need to be sent? When does a cc need to happen? When is it best to pick up the phone?

This week I decided to only check email twice a day. I'm turning off IM, twitter, all the distractions. But now I find I am managing email at night at home after the kids go to bed.

In the long run I think the solution will be to educate people on what warrants and email versus some other form of communication.

Anonymous said...

An organization should have a written policy on how they expect email to be used including etiquette standards. This helps everyone to understand what is expected of them when they receive an email; should they respond, how fast are they expected to respond, etc. Second, email is different from chat and phone calls in that it is asynchronous, and therefore I get to choose when to respond. Email is not an interruption unless I let it be. I prefer email for this reason. I also prefer email because it creates a history that I control. I have used saved emails as much as 6 years old to retrieve information that I have needed.

I don't think the issue is so much replacing email with another form of communication, but rather discovering how to use each form most efficiently.

Every form of communication ever used is still being used somewhere, because in that situation it is the most effective means.

Anonymous said...

Hi Helene,

Myself and many of my colleagues have been lamenting the surge of emails, too. It's interesting to see that the "trend" is more universal. There has been talk here of "email free Fridays", but I have started "meeting free Fridays" (meetings are almost as frequent as the emails). A day free of meetings helps me catch up on the weeks emails and cross things off my growing list of things to do. And I have the satisfaction of feeling like I accomplished something during the week.

Another little thing I do is have a mailbox for each of my staff and folks that I communicate a lot with. If I am cc'd or bcc'd, the email goes directly to their mailbox. If they send it to me directly, I get it in my inbox. It helps to sort the fyi emails from the main emails.

Not too techy, but it works.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what email program you use, but many programs allow you to have a folder that filters messages according to criteria that you choose. So you could create a folder that gives you messages that are sent only to you or when your email is on the To: line.

I use this is in Outlook for work all the time.

Maggie the Librarian said...

Annette @ the help desk has her groupwise set up in a way that has an extra column to show whether you've been CC'ed on something, etc. It's neat. If you're not already doing something like that, maybe ask her for a few tips.

Amir Sachs said...

Hi Helene,
The problem of email overload won't be solved by 'Email Free Fridays'. It will only add to your workload on Monday. I have discovered that the biggest problem with email overload (or for that matter - anything), is the management of it, or lack thereof. Have a look at your inbox. How many emails do you have there? 10, 50, 500? If you don’t file your emails on a regular basis, the pure sight of an inbox FULL of emails will cause you loss of productivity, in addition to not knowing what was answered, what’s handled, which emails are waiting for action etc. The biggest problem in filing is that you never remember where you filed what. I had the same problem, and decided to solve it by creating a little application that would do the filing for me (like a virtual assistant), but only AFTER I read the emails, and handled them. The application is called MoveIT. ALL my emails come to the inbox (over 200 a day). I first scan them for what’s important, handle that immediately, and the moment I finish handling an email the software files it for me automatically. What I’m left with are informational email, which I decided whether I want to read right now, or later in the day. The MOST IMPORTANT thing is to empty your inbox at the end of the day. By using MoveIT I save almost 30 minutes a day of filing. That’s enough time for me to read through the ‘informational emails’. So I am able to handle all 200 emails effectively. The website for MoveIT is
Good Luck!