Drowning in Email? Six Steps to Mastering Your E-Mail Mess

Who has not heard co-workers complain about the number of e-mails flooding their inbox every day? Maybe you’re the one complaining about it, and if you are, you’re obviously not alone. Just the daily influx of e-mails from internal co-workers can be enough to drown you in an electronic blizzard of words, not to mention e-mails from outside clients. The efficiency of e-mail can actually serve to make you much less efficient.

E-mail is something of a business-related crutch; you rely on it because it’s nearly impossible to get people on the phone, or much less, see them in person. If you’re communicating with someone hundreds or thousands of miles away, there are few options – and writing a letter through the U.S. Mail is hardly an option. The burden of overloaded e-mail inboxes is not necessarily something to blame on technology, though. There are often causes underneath the hood that drive your organization’s use (or over-use) of electronic mail.

As this article in the Harvard Business Review points out, the overload can be easily identified and dealt with. Here are some points of advice for specific issues you may be facing:

  • Are there clearly-defined and effective goals where you work? Make sure there are. People need to know what their goals are and who they’re working with to get answers they need.
  • Is everyone under the sun getting copied? “Reply All” messages are usually a tremendous waste of everyone’s time, especially if one-word thanks are employed. Have your people use reports and scheduled status updates to keep everyone abreast of what’s going on – not by replying to all to keep everyone ‘in the loop.’
  • Are you an e-mail ‘pack rat?’ Organize yourself – it works (I had 8,000 e-mails in my inbox at one point). Cut everything out and into an ‘Old Mail’ folder. Then spend 10-15 minutes a day organizing it further to make messages easier to find.
  • Do you have e-mail rules? If not, create some. E-mail should be a collaborative resource, but one that should be governed. Ensure you are sending only emails with action items and only on current topics. Otherwise, make sure people use their phones – and answer them.
  • Vacation? What about a break? Sure, that’s another few hundred e-mails, right? Do like the above point and create a new folder for them, and copy everything into it. Then deal with it when you’re back in the office.
  • Organize much? Explore your e-mail system’s tools beyond creating folders. Know the tricks to what you’re using and understand that most people only utilize a few features of an otherwise very robust system, such as Microsoft Outlook.

If you are one that finds yourself drowning in the electronic pool of email, then try following a few of these steps, explore the tools of your email system and budget a bit of time everyday and it won’t take much effort to get back on top of things.

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Michael Eckenfels

Michael is a writer and instructional designer, having worked in both fields for over a decade. He has had extensive corporate and freelance experience with a variety of business fields, including oil and gas, finance, health care, entertainment, and computer software. Michael is also an actor, having been in a wide variety of stage, series, and films over the last three years.

2 thoughts on “Drowning in Email? Six Steps to Mastering Your E-Mail Mess

  1. Stephen A

    There are many tools available to small business which relieve the inbox from some of its duties.  Skype being the most obvious one – letting you keep ‘disposable’ communications out of the inbox, and even helping with file transfer.  Skype is dangerous, though, in that you don’t want to rely on it as a record of interaction.  Private discussion groups on facebook can replace long email threads, and DropBox of course is nice for internal file sharing.  There are now cloud-based intranet solutions which combine all of these things together so that you can have your communications right where you work: instant messenger, comments on objects like tasks and shared files, discussions, and an updates stream.  Even though this relieves the load in the inbox, communications actually becomes more efficient.  Nothing should be taken out of the inbox unless there really is a better solution.


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