6 Steps to Tame Email Overload

Keeping on top of your email inbox is becoming more and more of a challenge for many of us.

There’s just too much, too often, waiting for a response yesterday.

It’s difficult to manage all this information and still get your work done.

Often times we can end up feeling like our job title is Professional Email Writer.

If you are feeling more than a little overwhelmed by the barrage of your incoming messages, here are few tips to create an email system and take back control of your inbox.

1. Take a Good Look at your Inbox

Your first step should be to take an honest look at the contents of your inbox. This could take some time so make a plan for when you can do this.

It’s better to do it at home or on the weekend so that you don’t have the pressure of more emails and phone calls coming in as you are trying to get a handle on your problem.

The hard part comes when you have to decide which emails you have to keep and those to file or delete. But one of the basics of good email management is that in order to start controlling your inbox you will have to file or delete.

2. Reduce the Flow

Now take a look at where your email is coming from and put anything that is not totally work related to one side. This includes anything from family, friends or even formal colleagues.

Items that are for information should also be separated out and any circular email chains that do not directly relate to your immediate work or current projects should also be identified. Once you get those pieces out of the way you might actually begin to see your real work and what needs action.

3. Working Time is For Work

Look at your separated lists and forward any personal emails to a personal email address like a free Gmail or Yahoo mail account. Send all your friends and family your personal email address and ask them to communicate with you there.

Next, set up an inbox folder for information items and those crazy circular emails that never seem to die. Place all your current info emails into that folder and as they arrive just ship any new ones over there as well.

Congratulations, you have just dealt with about half of your problem and are moving to take back control.

4. Action, Information and Reading

In the good old days, people separated all their snail mail into sections for action, info and reading materials. So why not do that with your email too?

Just because people can send us a request faster by email doesn’t mean that we have to jump to attention and take action as soon as we receive it. That doesn’t mean that you don’t react quickly to urgent or emergency situations, but we stop letting other people make the decisions about what is really urgent.

And remember that an emergency is when the building is on fire. Everything else is just important stuff.

5. Organize and Leave it Alone

Triage is a great way to deal with your most urgent problems. But once you have your inbox organized the way you want, then leave it alone and focus on getting your work done. It’s not necessary to organize and reorganize every day.

Create new folders as necessary, but by and large you should let your system do its work. Use your time responding to your emails and not filing them and trying to remember where you filed them.

6. Set Your Own Speed

You can speed up or slow down how fast you deal with an email. Some people like to work very quickly and others deliberate longer before taking action. As long as you don’t get stuck, you control the gas pedal and the speed in which you choose to respond to electronic requests.

There will be times when you will want to or simply have to speed up but make that the exception rather than the rule. Unless you are working on a timer in a call center you can control your email if you take charge and take actions to make that happen.

Your life will thank you for implementing this email system. Do you have any suggestions to go along with these steps?


Mike Martin is a freelance writer and consultant specializing in workplace wellness and conflict resolution. He is the author of Change the Things You Can (Dealing with Difficult People). For more information about Mike please visit: Change the Things You Can


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