New Years Resolution. How to deal with the backlog of works emails in January….

20121227-154637.jpgSimple. Just select all messages sent since the 24th December and press DELETE. Any issues that are still important will magically reappear in your inbox around the 7th January. The rest will have disappeared in a puff of smoke to wherever they belong (it is Pantomime season after all).

Apparently everything will be just fine. To reassure you I heard some ‘big time’ speakers tell these two stories about how important people deal with their email overload.

CEO ‘stops being the fire hose’. CEO sits down on long haul flight and spends 2 hours processing emails. CEO closes the laptop (with a sigh) and turns to the next passenger and explains that they have just learnt a valuable lesson. Amongst the 400+ emails that had arrived in the two days the CEO was offline, were several strings concerning internal ‘issues’. The CEO said that normally they would have intervened at about exchange number 3, made a decision, and then dealt with the fallout. Without being involved people resolved the issues themselves and email exchange number 6 was all about confirming this. The moral of the story was that things tend to sort themselves out naturally. Getting involved and ‘being the fire hose’ (as described in this Forbes article)  just escalates the problem.

CEO ‘extends the holiday spirit’.  Exactly like the main suggestion, the CEO returns from holiday, deletes all emails and nothing terrible happens. All the important things resurface and the irrelevant information goes away. The moral of this story is, if this can happen to the emails you get when you are holiday, why can’t it happen every day?

Both stories were told by very serious, important Business School Professors so they must be true. If you need any further assurance, search the internet for ‘how to deal with email overload’ and close to the surface you get lots of similar examples. This article Stop Email Overload from the HBR Blog Network offers lots of useful advice, including an insight that a clogged inbox may not actually be about email….. “If your organisation has ambiguous decision-making processes and people don’t get what they need from their colleagues, they’ll flood the system with email and meeting requests.” That sounds a bit depressing.

There are absolutely mountains of good advice on how to manage email overload available on the Internet, lots of it linked to courses you can pay to attend. Some are even online where you get email updates about managing your email overload…… errrr…..right.

Inevitably lots of the advice focuses on technology and process solutions, how to deal with the symptoms of the problem. Helpfully there is also advice on addressing the causes (see the useful links below). At the end of the day, colleague to colleague emails don’t send themselves. I’m a firm believer that ‘behaviour begets behaviour’ and you get what you give. So you don’t have to read all that stuff, here are my top five tips for reducing email overload (A Festive Gift).

  1. Don’t join in. The more you send, the more you get back.
  2. Erase the ‘cc’ option. There is so much wrong with this I don’t know where to start.
  3. Do nothing. Referred to as an ’email sabbatical’ in the upmarket online guidance. It’s amazing how much ‘urgent’ stuff disappears using this approach.
  4. Don’t be too helpful. I know that sounds terrible, sorry, but it works. Probably best reserved for the people who just don’t know when to stop bothering you.
  5. Pick up the phone (or walk over to talk to people). Amazing how much email traffic this makes redundant.

Just to stress the point, ’emails don’t send emails, people do!’ I’d urge you to have a look at the excellent and try to adopt some of the principles as a New Year’s resolution.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Emails don’t send emails, people do. Sender and recipient behaviours are key to managing the backlog.
  2. Think about what you want to achieve before sending emails, the email charter provides some useful advice, and the Infographic below.
  3. Happy New Year. Please don’t get upset if I don’t respond to you emails, I’m not ignoring you; I’m just having an ’email sabbatical’.

Useful links: my final festive gift, these are well worth looking at. a really helpful presentation on SlideShare called ‘We’ve broken email and it’ time to fix us’. a cool Infographic, ‘Should I send this email’. This has some startling statistics on the impact on business of useless emails.

Picture Source: Some more useful advice via GigaOm

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

5 Responses

  1. olwenmhughes

    Left “regular” work a few months ago – amazing how emails still accumulate! But SO much easier to sift friend from foe these days! Corporate busyness is so valued, isn’t it ? Measured in a weird kind of life-sensing way by how zappy things look, not whether there’s true sentience there – and any “pont” to it all. Happy 2013!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s