How to Avoid Inbox Overload


Technology is supposed to make you more efficient, but when it comes to email, it can feel like your drowning in a pool of messages, especially for employees.

A study last year conducted by consulting firm McKinsey Global Institute revealed email takes up to 28% of a worker’s time at the office.

“It’s a bigger problem than it’s ever been,” says Alex Moore, chief executive of Baydin, a company that makes email management tools.  “The volume of email has just gone up.”

Spam mail used to be the main culprit of overloading inboxes, but software has become so advanced, that it’s no longer a problem. In fact, last year marked the first time ever the amount of spam decreased. So what’s to blame? People.

“Just because the barrier to communicating is so low it’s very easy to shoot off an email and very easy to shoot one back,” says Peter Bregman, a consultant and author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done. “Suddenly a quick conversation that would take four or five minutes over the phone now involves seven emails.”

For workers finding themselves on the losing end of the daily inbox battle, here are five rules to live by:

Rule No. 1 Schedule Time to Read Email

The popularity of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets has made it easy to check your email anywhere at any time, but this can be sap productivity. Instead, experts recommend scheduling set periods of time throughout a day to check and reply to email.

“The biggest mistake people make is to respond to email as it comes in,” says Bregman. “Choose a half hour in the morning, a half hour in the middle of the day and a half hour in the evening to sift through emails.”

To curb the impulse to check outside of the scheduled times, he says to close the email client altogether. “It’s much more efficient if you cut hours out of your email process,” he says.

Rule No. 2: Don’t Focus Inbox Cleaning Each Morning

The first thing most people do when they get up in the morning and when they arrive at work is check their email, which could be counterproductive.

“Your inbox is a to do list that somebody else writes items on,” says Dmitri Leonov, vice president of growth at email management company Sanebox.  “By making cleaning out your inbox your top priority you are being reactive not doing work.”

Rule No. 3 Get In, and Get Out

Users need to be efficient when tackling their inbox: Once they open a message they need to deal with it, either respond accordingly or delete it. Don’t let it linger.

“When you look at it, make a decision,” says Moore. “Try not to stay in your inbox looking at the whole list. We’re not wired to focus on twelve things at once.”

Rule No. 4: Don’t Waste Time

Not every email is created equal and not every note should get the same amount of attention.

Leonov recommends prioritizing messages . “If something is unimportant you don’t need to deal with it right then. Just because it’s higher up in your inbox. doesn’t mean you have to deal with it.”

Because each email takes up the same amount of space, many people treat them all the same but Leonov says users must discriminate and delete or move the unimportant stuff out of the inbox.

Rule No. 5: Avoid E-mail Conversations

Shooting off a quick question over email can seem like a time saver, but when a back and forth starts going, it might be more efficient and informative to have an actual conversations. A 10-minute email exchange could be replaced by a one-minute phone call, says Bregman.

“Email is not a great method to have conversations,” he says.