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 The Business Realist

   A dose of reality for a saner workplace


Because it is so easy, people tend to overuse and abuse email. Think about the ways you abuse it and contribute to your own email overload. Remember the golden rule of email, the fewer emails you send, the fewer emails you will receive.

Tips on how to deal with email overload

Posted  on 6/6/09

Man sitting astride a computerRemember that email is work, not an addition to work

The first tip is to reframe how you think about your email. Many people think of it as something that needs to be eliminated as quickly as possible before you can start doing your real work. However, the reason email is so heavily used (and abused) is because it is a very effective productivity tool.


  • Solves the problem of two-way, asynchronous communication, eliminating telephone tag. For short actions, it works extremely well, allowing people to respond on their own time.
  • Provides easy reference, documenting conversation threads and decisions and eliminates the need to revisit conversations.
  • Allows you to keep your email and task “to do” list in one place, eliminating the pre-email need to rewrite “to do’s.”

However, overuse of email leads to the syndrome of “email overload.” Having a full inbox causes stress for two main reasons:

  • People equate their inbox with a “to do” list and as the inbox grows, people’s “to do” list grows, creating stress
  • Virtual clutter, like real clutter, can create an ever-present anxiety associated with the inability to find things or get organized

To aggravate this effect, people generally do not delete as much email as they should because of the desire to keep it as reference or back up.

Management spends anywhere from 60 to 80% of their time communicating to employees and resolving issues. Remember that email is one way to conduct this communication and should be used in conjunction with face-to-face communications and telephone calls.

The less you send, the less you get

The golden rule of email is the more emails you send, the more emails you get. If you don't send any, you probably won't get any. The people with the worst inbox backlogs are also the poorest users of email. They send incoherent messages to everyone under the sun and then are surprised that they get equally incoherent replies from everyone under the sun. Thus, a vicious cycle is born.

Consider using other tools besides email to accomplish your tasks. Because email is so easy and almost always open on our PC, it is the first thing we reach for. However, other technologies can accomplish certain tasks better.

Discussions Ever have a back and forth conversation that lasted several threads? This is when you need to pick up the phone or drop by their office.
Collaborating on documents There is nothing more infuriating than having multiple versions of the same document floating around email, each edited by a different person. Even though Office can merge files, there really is no reason for this hassle. Use a web share with version control or a shared drive that prevents multiple open files. Done.
Communicating news, events, project status You have to keep all those emails with status reports and event details unless you are really good at detaching and filing these things. Most of us keep them filed in our inbox somewhere. However, if you put this information on a website, portal, or web share and send email alerts about the update, then we can all delete the emails and know where to find the information when we need it.
Small tasks and quick answers Can you send me the file with the current budget allocation? Do you need monthly breakdowns as well as quarterly? When is the software update occurring?  These are perfect for email.  Get your answer and then delete it.

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Got Ideas?

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Featured Neologisms

Undue diligence   –
the endless process of collecting more information in order to avoid making a decision
Team vynamics   -
Group behavior wherein individuals at a meeting vie for dominance