Back in 2015, McKinsey told us in their report that ‘The average worker spends an estimated 28 percent of the workweek managing e-mail’
It will come as no surprise that as well as being inefficient and affecting our productivity this is also affecting our health, “Email overload is causing people to get ill,” says Cary Cooper, organisational psychology professor at Lancaster University in the UK. His research has found that higher email load is associated with higher workload stress.
Companies and managers can do a lot to help –banning internal emails and using messaging services instead or creating policies on who should and shouldn’t be on cc in emails can really help. As is creating a culture where people are encouraged to respect other’s time by ensuring line managers never send emails outside of office hours to their subordinates unless it’s absolutely essential, or thinking before sending emails at the end of the week about something that needs to be handled after the weekend.
However, individuals need to take responsibility too, so, what can be done improve our efficiency and more importantly our mental health by taking back control of our inbox:
Merlin Mann (author of 43 folders) introduced this term in his google tech talk ten years ago, the zero does not refer to the number of mails in an inbox – but rather to the “the amount of time an employee’s brain is in his inbox.”
This is achieved by a strict system that allows you to categorise your emails into five categories with a system of filters, reminders and notifications and a strong reliance on deleting any unwanted or completed information.
If all this seems just a bit too much on the organised side – we have just four easy steps to help you take back control:
Schedule time to read and respond to email
By setting aside blocks of time to handle emails –whether that is once a day or three times a day whatever works best for you, priority can be given to completing tasks and ensuring focus. During those email-time blocks, attention can be given to delete, respond, prioritise and clear all emails. Outside of those time focus can be given to other tasks.
Take Action Immediately
When you are reviewing emails don’t put anything off. Scan your inbox for any messages that can be immediately deleted, such as spam or promotional emails, then archive, file or delete any that require no action or response. Once you have streamlined your inbox you are better able to assess which are the most critical. Answer the email immediately, or if this is not possible, respond to the sender that you have received the message and will respond shortly – set yourself a deadline and a reminder to follow up.
Set up a filing system
Not every email can be deleted so by setting up a system of rules, filters and folders you can organise your inbox to ensure that your messages are categorised and prioritised and easy to find. The better your filing system, the easier it will be to locate specific emails when you need them.
Before you file a message, ensure the subject line is search-friendly. If it doesn’t accurately describe the content of the email, edit the subject line before it’s categorised and archived.
Clean up the clutter – if you are receiving promotional mails or newsletters that you don’t get round to reading –unsubscribe, you can always bookmark the site that they came from and activity visit and read content when you have the time. These emails block up your inbox and can bury the important ones, so make this a priority. The same goes for emails you are copied into, if you find that you are constantly on cc on certain emails – speak to the sender, explain that your participation is not required and ask to be removed from cc, encourage others to reciprocate.
Finally – don’t get too hung up on it. The idea is to streamline and give yourself more time, if you find you’re spending too much time organising your inbox – you’re doing it wrong!