Slay the Email Monster! How to Manage Inbox Overload and Actually Get Stuff Done

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 17, 2013 · 23 comments

in Money & Career

Email Monster 500-2

As someone who makes his living working entirely online, I get a lot of email. Kate and I used to have times where we spent nearly an entire day going through and processing email instead of researching and writing content for our fantastic readers. We hated those all-day email-fests. At the end, we’d feel a bit of relief that we had cleared our inboxes, but simultaneously feel anxiety that we didn’t get to what’s important to us and the site. Even if we had some time to actually get to writing, our willpower was so drained from having to make so many choices about how to respond that we just didn’t have the mental energy or focus to effectively shift to a different task.

We’re not alone in feeling both drained and chained to our inbox. According to the L.A. Times, recent studies have found that the average employee spends up to a third of their day answering email instead of doing productive work. The time-suck created by email has forced some companies to create draconian no-email policies to force their employees into actually being productive.

When email was created, it was meant to streamline our communication and make it more efficient. And it still can, but more often than not it morphs into a time-devouring, stress-inducing, legacy-work destroying monster. How can we vanquish the mighty beast that lurks in our inboxes and let peace once more reign throughout the land?

While I admittedly haven’t gotten a complete handle on managing my email effectively, I’ve made huge strides over the years. Answering emails now constitutes a far, far smaller percentage of my day than it used to. Below I share what I’ve learned on minimizing the amount of email I receive and how to process it quickly and effectively. I highly encourage you to implement many of these steps as soon as you read them; it’s so easy to put off taking action in this area and then never get to it. Do it now!

How to Reduce Email Coming In

The first step to take in conquering your email is reducing the number of emails arriving in your inbox. Here’s how.

Turn off notifications from social media sites. You don’t need to get emails every time someone responds to a tweet or Facebook comment or when someone connects with you on LinkedIn. You’ll see those updates when you actually visit those sites anyway, so why have them gunk up your inbox? Moreover, those notifications are just distractions waiting to happen. (“Ooo… someone posted a comment on my Facebook photo. Let me check that out….” *spends another 20 minutes surfing Facebook.*) Visit the account settings pages on all the social media sites you belong to and turn off ALL email notifications.

Mass unsubscribe from bacn. Most email providers do a decent job of preventing spam from hitting your inbox. But what can you do about those newsletters and coupon deals you yourself have signed up for over the years? Pronounced “bacon” (it’s a techie term – it’s “better than spam, but not quite as good as a personal message”), these are emails that you’ve subscribed to, but you never open them, they clutter up your inbox, and they’re annoying. Technically, it’s not spam email because you’ve given permission (even if you didn’t realize it at the time). Sometimes bacn is useful — like The Art of Manliness newsletter! — but usually it’s a nuisance.

Get a handle on your bacn by unsubscribing from lists you no longer wish to be on. The hard and long way to do this is to open each unwanted message one by one as they come in and click the “unsubscribe” option within. A more efficient way would be to use one of the many mass unsubscribe tools out there on the market.

Unroll.me is what I use. Connect your Gmail or Yahoo email to Unroll.me, and the site goes through your inbox to find subscription emails. Unroll.me will then present you a list of email addresses that look to be subscriptions and ask you if you want to unsubscribe or “add to Rollup.” Click unsubscribe and you’ll no longer get that email. If there are some subscription emails you’d still like to get, you can combine all those into a single email digest (called your Rollup).

Unroll.me does a pretty decent job of catching all those subscription emails, but a few still slip through the cracks. Another thing you can do is use your inbox’s search function and search for “unsubscribe.” That should bring up most of the subscription emails you get and then it’s just a matter of going through them and unsubscribing from the ones you no longer want to receive.

To prevent more bacn in the future, it might be a good idea to set up a “burner email” that you can give to websites or companies that require an email from you to access their service. MailDrop is an excellent service for creating email addresses for those times you don’t want to give out your real one.

Set up filters to stop annoying FWD: emails. We all probably get those annoying FWD: chain emails featuring some political rant or silly urban myth. They’re usually sent by just a select few people in your contact list — an aunt or that squirrely-looking co-worker in the next cubicle over.

Filter these emails to a special folder. Gmail makes creating this filter a breeze. (Other email programs do as well, we’re just highlighting the specific process for Gmail.)

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When you receive an offending forward from a person, click on “More” and then “Filter messages like these.”

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In the subject line, add “fwd or fw.”

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Click “Continue.” And then check “Skip Inbox (Archive)” and apply label “Forwards.”

Now whenever you get a forward from that person, it will go directly to the folder you just created. Review it once a week on the off-chance that one of their forwards might actually be important.

Write emails that don’t create more emails. One problem with email is that it often simply begets more email. On average, an outgoing email generates two responses. The Asian Efficiency Blog calls this problem the Email Boomerang Effect. For example, you send out an email with an open-ended question like:

“When do you want to get together?”

They respond with, “Monday.”

You: “Monday isn’t good for me. How does Tuesday sound?”

Them: “Sure. What time?”

You: “2PM?”

Them: “2PM isn’t good. How about 5PM?”

And so on.

Most of those emails could have been avoided by simply substituting the initial open-ended question for one that elicits a yes/no response like, “Let’s get together this week. I’m available M,T,W between 12PM and 5PM. Do any of those dates/times work and if so which one?” They respond with the date and time. End email thread.

Here are some other strategies you can use to write emails that don’t initiate the Email Boomerang Effect

  • Use CC with discretion. Every person you add to an email thread is just another reply waiting to happen. Avoid needless emails by only including people who absolutely need to be in the thread.
  • Try to include a non-response default action. When you write up an email with a question, set up the question so that there’s a default action that requires no response from your recipient. For example, when you’re planning an event, you can phrase your email like this: “I’m going to schedule the conference room for Tuesday at 3PM. If I don’t hear back from you by tomorrow, I’ll assume that’s fine.” If the person doesn’t have a problem with it, you won’t get a response. Boom. You just reduced the amount of email you received.
  • Add “FYI” at the beginning of the subject line; end with NRN. Many emails you send are just for informational purposes and don’t require a response. Let your recipient know that in the subject line by beginning with “FYI” and ending with “NRN” (no response needed). Example: “FYI: Latest company report. NRN.”
  • Don’t send emails. The simplest solution to the Email Boomerang Effect is to just not send email unless it’s absolutely necessary. Use this flow chart to help you determine whether you really should send that email.

Set up barriers. One of email’s biggest advantages is also its biggest drawback: there are hardly any barriers in time/effort/embarrassment in sending an email, so people will just blast one off without much thought.

Not very long ago, if you wanted to get in touch with a friend, media outlet, or business, you’d have to write a letter or pick up the phone. Just because technology has now made connecting with nearly everyone instantaneous and fairly anonymous, doesn’t mean people have the right to try to connect with you whenever and wherever they want, nor are you required to make yourself available to anyone who asks; an invention may change expectations, but it doesn’t automatically make those expectations reasonable or civilized. Which is to say, technology may have made communication easier, but it hasn’t made your time any less valuable.

So if you’re someone who runs their own business and receives lots of unsolicited email, don’t feel bad about putting up barriers to your inbox. Our friend Antonio Centeno at Real Men Real Style makes people who use his contact form promise not to ask questions that could be answered with 10 minutes of googling and to do a good deed if he answers their email within 23 hours.

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Antonio’s contact form. You have to promise not to ask stupid questions before you email him.

Over a year ago, Kate and I took the even more dramatic step of eliminating our contact form altogether. People can instead get in touch with us by either sending a tweet or writing us a real letter. We did this because, as mentioned at the outset, more and more of our time was consumed in answering email. And 90% of that email was crap: business and PR pitches, grammar corrections, questions that could be answered with a google search, or about whether they had won a giveaway from five years ago. But the real light bulb went off when I read something that talked about how communication should be, and used to be, equitable; when you talk to someone on the phone or swap letters, each person spends about the same amount of time on the exchange. But with email, someone would spend 2 minutes firing off a question that would take me ten minutes to answer. The sender/responder time investment balance was really out of whack.

Getting rid of the contact form lifted a huge burden of static, stress, and time-suck from our lives. It was amazing. I’m sure it infuriates a few people who firmly believe they have the right to instantaneous communication, but the few times I’ve heard from them, it turns out they were seeking to convey exactly the kind of pointless message the barrier is there to prevent! We’re very happy to answer all letters that we get. But honestly we don’t get a ton. Interestingly enough, stuff that once seemed important to folks stopped being so important once they had to use some forethought and put in as much time with their query as I do with my response.

Obviously, this solution isn’t for everyone. A lot of businesses need to hear from their clients as much as possible. But whatever your situation is, look for your own way to put up a barrier to your inbox so you get more of the emails you want and need and less chaff.

Pick up the phone, use Skype, go talk to the person face-to-face. If it looks like an email exchange will go past four back-and-forth emails, pick up the phone, use Skype, or go talk to the person face-to-face. It’s sometimes simply more efficient to spend 5 to 10 minutes discussing what you need than spreading out the same conversation all day on email.

How to Process Email Quickly and Efficiently

So you’ve reduced the number of emails you’re getting. That’s a start. Now we need a system to quickly process the emails left in our inbox. Here are some suggestions.

Turn off email notifications on your computer and phone. To break the time-sucking habit of constantly checking your email, turn off all email notifications on your computer and phone. Those random little “pings” are just conditioning you to check your email compulsively like a Pavlovian dog. Moreover, email notifications distract us from focused, concentrated work. Our brains aren’t really wired for multi-tasking. We may think we’re just going to spend only a minute reading that latest email, but studies have found it takes, on average, 25 minutes to return to your original work once you’ve gone down the rabbit hole.

Establish set times for responding to email. Instead of checking your email as the notifications come up, set aside specific times each day that you dedicate to checking and responding to email, such as a 30-minute session in the morning and at the end of the day. You’ll be amazed how much email you’ll be able to process and answer when you’re solely focused on the task.

To make your email sessions even more productive, consider answering emails in “offline” mode. Answering emails offline ensures that you don’t get bogged down in a game of “email tennis” where someone responds immediately to your response.

A common rebuttal to only checking and responding emails a few times a day is: “What if I get an important email that needs a response ASAP?” If it’s really that important, the person trying to reach out to you will connect to you a different way, like calling you on the phone. The reality is most things in email aren’t that important and can wait a few hours for a response. Email’s immediacy just makes us feel that everything we communicate is urgent even though it’s not.

Here are a few other tips when considering the timing of answering emails:

  • Get out of the habit of checking email first thing in the morning. Instead, spend that time in a routine that will set you up for daily and lifetime success.
  • When you do commence your morning email review session, move emails that don’t need an immediate answer to a special folder (see below) and then answer them at the end of the day. You only have a limited amount of willpower each day, so don’t waste it on formulating email responses before you even dive into your important work.
  • Don’t respond to business emails after work hours. You don’t want clients or fellow employees to get the impression that you’re available 24/7. Establish boundaries or else you’ll never leave your inbox. Feel free to write up your replies at night in offline mode, just don’t send them until the next morning. Of course, if you’re moonlighting on top of your regular day job, answering email during non-work hours is probably your only option.

Respond, delete, file, archive. During your email sessions, quickly scan your inbox. With each email, you’re going to perform one of four actions: respond, delete, file, archive. The goal is to completely clear your inbox.

Respond: If responding to an email will take less than two minutes, then reply and be done with it. This can include delegating it to the more appropriate party or to an assistant. If the email doesn’t require a response, but has an associated action — like bringing the drinks to your kid’s next soccer game — write the action item in your to-do list and archive the email.

DeleteBe judicious with the delete key. I like Matt Gemmell’s approach to processing email:

“The importance of an email isn’t something you need to spend time thinking about. If it doesn’t immediately and obviously make you feel you should reply to it within the next day or two, it’s not that important to you. Archive or delete it.

If it’s sufficiently important to someone else, that person will expend effort to make it come back to you. If the email does not come back to you, you would have wasted your time replying to it. Win-win.”

When in doubt, delete. Don’t feel guilty.

FileIf an email will require extra time to answer and isn’t urgent, file it away to a “To Answer” folder. Dedicate your last email-checking session each day to tackling emails in this folder.

ArchiveIf an email is just for informational purposes and doesn’t require a response or action, archive it. If you need that information, you can always find it using your email’s search feature.

Use the five-sentence rule. Keep responses brief. It saves time for both you and your recipient. Entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki recommends the “five sentence rule” when writing emails. “Proper email is a balance between politeness and succinctness,” he says. “Less than five sentences is often abrupt and rude, more than five sentences wastes time.”

Use canned responses. If you get emails that require the same sort of answer over and over, consider creating a canned response. With just a click, your message will populate and be sent. A quick google search will help you find out how to create a canned response for your specific email client.

Use text expanders. Related to canned responses, consider getting a text expander. Text expander programs allow you to assign predefined keystrokes to complete words and phrases. Whenever you type that keystroke in, the text expander will type out the complete word or phrase. Typing out full words is for suckers.

Here are some text expander programs for the various operating systems out there:

Use vacation responders. To reduce the amount of email that clogs up your inbox while you’re on vacation, make sure to use a vacation responder. That way people won’t keep emailing you again and again because they think you’re around and just not responding.

Use an email processing tool. If you’re still having trouble processing your emails, consider using a web app to help you get through them quickly and painlessly. Here are a few to check out.

Gmail Priority Inbox. If you use Gmail, give their Priority Inbox feature a whirl. When you turn it on, Gmail starts watching how you answer and process your email. Based on your behavior within the inbox, Gmail will start sorting your email automatically for you, putting your important stuff on top and not so important stuff on the bottom. It takes awhile for Priority Inbox to really work its magic, so be patient in the beginning.

Sanebox. Sanebox functions similarly to Priority Inbox, but works with multiple email clients. Besides filtering and sorting your email for you, Sanebox also offers some other useful features like one-click unsubscribe and follow-up reminders. Sanebox costs $5.79 a month.

Mailstorm. If you have a serious backlog of emails (I’m talking thousands), Mailstrom might be for you. Connect your Gmail account with Mailstrom and you’ll be able to sort all your email in ways you wouldn’t think of with Gmail’s default inbox. Quickly get rid of non-important stuff and just focus on the important emails.

The Email Game. If you’re like me, you sometimes have trouble knowing whether to respond, delete, file, or archive. What happens more often than not is I don’t take any action and just let the email sit in my inbox. The Email Game gives you a nudge by turning answering your email into a game. Just connect your Gmail account to The Email Game and start a new game. The Email Game will go through each email in your inbox and force you to respond, delete, archive, or skip. If you respond, delete, or archive, you earn points; if you skip an email, you lose points. When you decide to respond to an email, The Email Game only gives you three minutes to do so. If you don’t do it within the time limit, you lose points.

I’ll use The Email Game if I get particularly backlogged on emails. With its help, I can usually blast through all of them in a single session.

Mailbox. Mailbox is an email app for your iPhone and iPad that has received a lot of buzz recently. It’s supposed to help you get through your email quickly. I gave it a try (after being on the waiting list for a few months) and wasn’t too impressed with it. But that’s just my opinion. I know several folks that have had their email life changed by the app. To each their own.

That goes for all these methods, too. Try them out to see what works for you and experiment with other ideas as well. Time is the most precious thing a man possesses. Don’t let the email monster devour it and control your life – vanquish it from your kingdom and take your place on the throne of productivity and peace of mind!

What are your email monster slaying tips? Have any that we didn’t include? Share them with us in the comments!

Illustration by Ted Slampyak

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Matthew July 17, 2013 at 11:10 pm

I have a Yahoo address that’s basically turned into a junk e-mail account. I use it to sign up for newsletters and other unimportant stuff. I peruse it and if something catches my eye I’ll check it out. I have a professional account on Gmail that I use for banking and other important stuff. I’m very strict with it’s use. I don’t really correspond with anyone through e-mail, so I don’t have that big of an issue with it. I will say that turning off notifications for social media was a plus though.

2 Logan July 17, 2013 at 11:26 pm

This is a tip in Gmail I’ve started using to make filters incredibly powerful.

Along with your regular Gmail username that you sign up with, you also get a nearly infinite amount of others by doing username+something@gmail.com . For instance, I have Newegg send to username+newegg@gmail.com or I’ll have Huckberry signed up with username+huck@gmail.com . Doing that, you can have your filters set up so that if it sees something sent TO one of those addresses, you can auto-read or label it however you see fit.

This doesn’t work for ALL websites, but it does for a majority of them (a lot of websites still won’t recognize a ‘+’ in an email). When it does work, it makes filters super awesome to set up and maintain and makes your inbox look so much more organized.

3 Michael July 18, 2013 at 12:28 am

At work I filtered mail where I was only in the CC or BCC of the message, because that meant I was copied for information only and it wasn’t something I needed to read and respond to in a timely fashion. I put them into a folder called Information and read them whenever I had spare time. I never missed an important message because of this. All the important ones were addressed to me in the To field. It cut out a lot of mail in my Inbox.

4 StJason July 18, 2013 at 12:31 am

I’m quite shocked that email is such an issue with people! I manage all my email with two accounts – a serious one and a junkmail one. For websites and other junk that need an email for no real reason – toss them in the junkmail. For actual correspondence, go to the realmail. I rarely have more then 20 that I pay attention to, and of those, I quickly scan through for spam or bacn, deal with them, and thus get my list down to just a few that I need to read.

5 Max Nachamkin July 18, 2013 at 1:18 am

I use the Zero Inbox Technique, which automatically sends an e-mail to archive if I look at it. This means that if I look at an email, I HAVE to respond to it then and there or it disappears.

The way to accomplish this is to set a Gmail filter to automatically archive all mail. Then, use Multiple Inbox to filter for unread emails only. When you view an email, it becomes ‘read’, and therefore is eliminated from the inbox.

This works nicely accompanied with Unroll.me and just straight up calling people instead of emailing them.

A good order to use when deciding whether to send an email is to go by this priority:

1) See them in person
2) Call them
3) Text them
4) Email them

Reduces e-mail drastically.

6 George July 18, 2013 at 4:53 am

if you are using MS Outloook, instead of filing emails that need a response in a folder called “to answer” its much easier and more effecient to simply flag it for followup and then file it in the appropriate folder. When you flag an email, outlook will create a virtual folder where all flagged emails are placed. You can then go to that folder and sort by name, date or folder. when the email no longer needs a response, you just need to unflag it. This works great for emails you receive or send that need followup.

7 Kevin July 18, 2013 at 6:15 am

Unless you’ve set up filters for messages to be moved to a specific folder, all e-mail should either be in your archive or the trash after you’ve processed it. If you need to respond at a later time, put an item on your task list to respond and attach the e-mail to the task, and then archive the e-mail to keep the inbox empty.

I’ve seen too many people with elaborate folder systems that, when it’s time to retrieve an old e-mail, will look in the wrong places for minutes and/or not find it at all. I’ve never yet failed to find an e-mail in my archive since implementing this 13 months ago, and it’s almost 10,000 e-mails to search through. Give it a shot- your search skills are better than you think.

8 Camoo July 18, 2013 at 6:33 am

Sometimes I would love to just delete mails and don’t look back, but that is hard to justify with work mails.

One of the blogs I read has a system of checking mails at least once a day, processing the whole inbox. Answering if interesting, moving to interesting but probably no reply and deleting the rest.

9 Richard July 18, 2013 at 7:47 am

I second Matthew’s suggestion about having separate email addresses for separate purposes.

I would also recommend (on the sending side) to use clear and concise subject lines that actually refer to the content of the message.

(Example: Thanks to a hobby of mine, I belong to a number of email lists. Discussions may start out on a particular subject, but eventually range far and wide. We can start out talking about giving a person an award, then start discussing the value of certain reference materials, and shift to a discussion of our group’s philosophy. All the while never changing the subject line from “Should we give so-and-so this award?” It becomes irritating when you have to wade through literally dozens of messages in order to find the one or two that may have an item you need to know, or the one that touches on a topic where you have something valuable to contribute.)

And resist the urge to pass on jokes or other frivolities to your friends. Don’t clutter their in-boxes with things you wouldn’t want to get.

10 caleb July 18, 2013 at 7:58 am

Good advice.

My method is to have multiple addresses. I have one to use on websites/lists that can be deleted if it gets to much spam, one for finances, one for personal contacts, one for school, one for volunteer work, one for my websites, etc. Sometimes I will use them as a place to have my other forwarded. I have different notification sounds on my phone. I ignore some of them most of them time and read through at those times of waste through the day (waiting rooms, etc) And work stays at work.

The finances one is the best idea because it keeps my wife and I on the same page since we not access it.

11 fcsaba July 18, 2013 at 10:05 am

Great article! I’ve been thinking lately a lot about reducing the amount of emails I get. So UnRoll.me was very useful for me, thanks!

12 Thanh Pham July 18, 2013 at 10:53 am

Thanks for the mention Brett!

Another technique I recently came across is yesterbox – coined by Tony Hsieh. It’s a different approach to managing your email and some of you might like it. I haven’t applied it myself much yet but I thought I would share it because lots of others have recommended it to me.

Personally I’m a big fan of the 5-sentences rule, abbreviations in subject lines and the filters. If you implement these guidelines you’ll save yourself a ton of time.

13 Jesse Malhi July 18, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Thank you for referring me to unroll.me, I always wanted to unsubscribe from all the annoying mail on my inbox but never had the time, to go through all my emails and unsubscribe the ones I find and wait till the next subscribtion emails. It saved me a ton of time and the rollup application on their site displays all my emails with a better and cooler user interface.

14 Debbie M July 18, 2013 at 10:06 pm

I’m finding I’m going to have to do one more tip: get a new, more obscure e-mail address. My current one is my very common name @ a very common provider. I’ve decided that many other people have tried to get my same address, but it wasn’t available, so they made a minor tweak and then a) forgot about the tweak or b) their friends don’t notice the tweak. So I’ve gotten signed up for newsletters and I’ve gotten invited to weddings and other events and even gotten a job offer. And I get spam. I try to respond to the non-spammy ones to let them know to try again. With e-mails from businesses, it usually doesn’t work, so I just unsubscribe. (And this is why I love businesses that make you check your mail before they sign you up–to make sure you are remembering your own e-mail address.)

That’s my personal e-mail–which now gets more e-mail for other people than for me. My business e-mail is fine. It has an underscore in it.

15 Patrick July 19, 2013 at 11:42 am

Thanks for a necessary article. My business life is overwhelmed with e-mails. Recently I got rid of the smart phone and replaced it with a dumb phone. It was incredibly distracting to get e-mails every other minute only to see junk. I keep an iPad for checking e-mails while on the run but I only check it a couple of times a day. I tell people if they need to reach me quickly, use the phone. I then promise to check e-mails at least once a day. I also tell them to call me if they send an e-mail that requires a response before days go by.

Unfortunately the phone is fading away. Younger people almost never use phones. That is too bad because it is so fast to come to agreement on a meeting time using the phone (seconds) whereas it can require multiple e-mails and 5 or 10 times more minutes. The telephone is 25th Century technology.

I asked a thoughtful young man, a lawyer in his late 20s, why those of his age group will not use phones. He agreed this was the case and he said he would probably be the same except his job requires frequent phone use. He explained that his generation has grown up with technology and that is all they know. They are not necessarily rude when they ignore phone calls. He said they are frankly shy about talking on the phone. That was an explanation that surprised me.

16 Fred July 19, 2013 at 6:16 pm

Many people in a work environment want more email. They use it as a CYA mechanism. “You want me to do what? Put it in an email.” Which is then forwarded to their supervisor. It’s also used in he said-she said situations, they archive or save everything forever, again as means to cover their rear. It’s rough to in an environment where a manager denies telling you to do something and when you produce that email from six months ago they are suddenly “Oh, I forgot.”

17 Dave July 21, 2013 at 7:17 am

This is a great article; would just like to add something to Logan’s advice.

Logan mentioned Gmail’s plus-addressing feature, and he correctly adds that a lot of sites don’t recognize the ‘+’ as a valid email character.

The other thing you can do with Gmail, is use dots creatively!

Example: if my address were dave.r@gmail.com (it isn’t!), I can also be sent email to ‘daver@gmail.com’, or any other combos, even ‘d.a.v.e.r@gmail.com’!

So I could use the ‘daver’ one for putting into sites, but keep the ‘dave.r’ one for giving to my contacts, for example.

Then, just create a filter to handle email to the two addresses differently. Easy!

18 Dave July 21, 2013 at 7:41 am

Patrick, what a great piece my friend, and I hope you see this reply.

I am in my late 40s but don’t regard myself as a dinosaur: I work in IT.

What you say is so true, and I miss my recently-departed ‘dumb phone’!

I work in an environment with lots of younger people, and we have emails flying around like you wouldn’t believe (or maybe you would!). Even between people sitting next to one another. The culture is absurd.

And as has been said elsewhere, this culture of emailing is really a means by which people cover themselves, and they cc people in to show how hard they are working.

You are so right – it’s so much more productive to pick up the phone and talk to people! I am going to make an effort to do more of that and show my colleagues what I know is right – conversation is the real facilitator.

Talking of non-work, my daughter is (late teens) texts like mad like all the rest but won’t call people either, so I read what you said about the lawyer with great interest.

Only yesterday this happened: she was hoping to meet a friend and do some quick shopping. so texted her to make plans. She ended up texting her four times, not getting a response. ‘Could you not have just called her in the morning, and had a chat?’ She looked at me as though I was mad!

19 Hans Verhoog July 21, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Ha! I was at 1/3 of an article when this came up “Over a year ago, Kate and I took the even more dramatic step of eliminating our contact form altogether. People can instead get in touch with us by either sending a tweet or writing us a real letter.”

Boy I’m glad you replied to my email! And after reading yet another insightful post, thank you Brett, for taking time to write me such a long reply.

20 Lex Spoon July 22, 2013 at 11:56 am

It’s an important topic if you want to be more productive. Three more suggestions:

1. Set up filters. Gmail can automatically file emails into special folders. Move your mailing lists, bacon (heh), and social notifications out of your main inbox and off to various side folders that you check less frequently. It’s typically easier to do this than to outright unsubscribe.

2. Keep your main inbox empty. That’s right, empty. At least once a day, go through the whole thing and either immediately deal with each message or move it to a “star” folder that you will deal with later. At least once a week, go through the star folder and empty it out, too. The idea is to turn the stream of tiny little things-to-do into larger groupings that you can triage.

3. Learn to just say “no” or “I have no time right now”. You can always change your mind later, but meantime, you can’t be clogging up your inbox.

PS — Email is very productive depending on what you do with it. The thing to avoid is spending all day on a missive that two people will read and neither will be convinced by. Use it to share important knowledge, to learn things, to make progress on a problem, to introduce people. If you spend a third of a day on things like that then you are very valuable to any organization.

21 Julie July 22, 2013 at 6:35 pm

I teach a class on this meaty topic and the biggest takeaway I’ve learned from my students is that no two people will have the same system. Mold the pieces to fit your world. What you’ve included here are AWESOME jumping off tips.

22 Socialkenny July 25, 2013 at 5:39 am

I don’t know what it is, but I really don’t spend that much time in e-mail, especially while @ work. E-mail is the last thing internet wise I’d wanna see.

23 Maggie August 25, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Does anyone do the IGNORE option at work?

I have taken to IGNOREing emails from certain people or topics until they come around, oh, say 3 times. If they come around 3 times, then I will consider asking. It’s like my own work spam file.

How do you guys handle that?

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