I was on a plane the other day and could not help but overhear the conversation of two people sitting behind me (primarily because the guy was a bit too loud for the cramped economy class). The lady asked the guy if he would be coming to the office tomorrow. It was clear that they were two colleagues coming back from a business trip.
– No, I am taking home-office tomorrow. I really need some quiet time to go through all the emails. I’ve had too many business trips in the last few weeks and my Inbox is overloaded…
The image of an overloaded Inbox in my head was disturbing and instantly made me feel slightly anxious (even though it was not my own Inbox). This got me thinking: how many emails is too many emails?
For all of us with an office job, email is the most widely used means of communication. Apparently, an average office worker receives 121 emails daily. If we consider an 8-hour workday, that would mean the person has about one hour to read (and process) around 15 emails, which does not leave a lot of time to actually “get some work done”.
Email was originally a productivity tool. But, with the frequency of emails today, it is more associated with distraction than getting things done. Most of us know that there are days when you are being bombarded with emails every minute. These constant email distractions can have a negative effect on productivity, making it harder to focus on completing a task, even if you are a great multitasker. On the other hand, not addressing the emails immediately can lead to email backlog which then creates frustration and stress.
There are numerous tactics, tips and self-help books on time management, which include effective (and efficient) email handling. But, can we get down to the source of the issue? Why do we have that many emails to start with? Here are 5 reasons why you might be receiving too many emails.
1. You are in too many FYI emails.
If you find yourself frequently reading emails and thinking: “why am I copied in this?” then you might be the victim of too many ‘reply all’ and ‘for your information’ emails. Perhaps your coworkers and/or employees have the habit of over-communicating. However, perhaps, dare I say it, they might feel they absolutely must include you in all the communication. If they do feel that way, you might need to rethink your work philosophy. Nobody likes a micromanager.
Don’t be afraid to exclude yourself from the communication that does not necessarily concern you. Learn to let it go for the sake of freeing up your time and your Inbox. If there is no action item for you in the email chain, simply explain that you don’t have to be copied in all emails around that issue, and you should only be updated when the final decision has been made or in the case of a crisis. Explain that everyone should try to respect each other’s time by deciding to include them in email communication only when necessary.
2. There are no guidelines about communication within the team.
Whether you are a small company with only a few people or a large corporation, you need an internal communication strategy and part of it should be email policy. Effective email policy will encourage positive, productive communications and not only protect you from legal liability and security breaches, but also serve as a guideline for adequate email communication. It can even include limitations for sending emails outside of working hours if this is appropriate to your business model.
Think of it this way: though it may seem obvious to you what effective email communication is, others might not share that opinion and that is why guidelines should be in place.
3. You do not turn on automatic replies. Ever.
As someone who works from home, I make this mistake myself. If I take a day off, I don’t turn on the automatic out of office reply, since I figure that I am anyways next to my laptop (or on my phone) and will be able to address any urgent issues by checking my Inbox a couple of times a day. And then, I complain about how many emails I receive even on my days off. How can people know you are out of office, busy, or travelling, if you don’t notify them?
Remember, it is proper etiquette to set up an out of office reply any time you are unable to check emails during regular work hours. Whether you are going on a vacation for several weeks or just busy for the day while attending an offsite meeting, an audit, or an industry event, an OOO message is appropriate.
4. You send too many emails yourself.
The more emails you send, the more you will receive. Believe me, it’s true. If you are not modeling good email practice, you can’t expect others to follow.
Work on establishing a rule for yourself that you should send emails only when they are required. Stop using email as a surrogate chat service and try to avoid sending one-word messages (such as “Thanks”). Also, some complex issues cannot and should not be solved via email. Avoid going back and forth in an endless trail of emails; instead, set up a meeting or a call and discuss.
5. It might not really be about the email.
Email overload might be just a symptom of a larger issue. Sometimes lack of clear and efficient protocols create confusing email communication. If your organization has vague decision-making processes and people are not sure who is in charge of a certain task, they will probably overwhelm everyone’s Inbox with emails and meeting requests.
Another serious issue behind too many emails could be that you simply have too much on your plate compared to your coworkers. Ineffective resource allocation and lack of task delegation will result in overburdening your Inbox. Perhaps it is time to look at the big picture of your organization and think about restructuring.
Despite many methods of exchanging information available nowadays, emails are still unavoidable. The total number of business and consumer emails sent and received per day is forecast to grow to over 347 billion by the end of 2023. Nevertheless, this does not mean that you should struggle with a cluttered Inbox. Apart from adopting successful time management habits and good organizing skills, make sure you are not unnecessarily receiving an unreasonably high number of emails. In order to gain mastery over our Inboxes again, we have to deal with the root causes and not just the symptoms that frequently emerge.
You are as busy as your Inbox is. Have you thought about outsourcing some of the work? Freeing up your Inbox and your schedule to do some real work?
Zenos is an administrative support provider. We help clients streamline their business by taking care of their non-core activities, at competitive costs, with a flexible and relaxed, stress-free, Zen-approach.
Make time for your business. We will do the paperwork.