I am thrilled to welcome as my guest blogger this week, Melissa Gratias, productivity expert. It is no mystery why I was drawn to her. Who among us could not benefit from her skills, especially when it comes to managing our email? I am confident you will find her blog immensely helpful as you try to climb out from under all that email that is heaped upon you daily. Every day, I want to shout at my inbox, “Hey, I’m in charge here.” But I’m not really.
A few years ago, the average corporate email user received between 60 – 70 messages per day. This year, most of my clients are reporting receiving between 100 – 150 emails each day. It is reasonable to expect that this trend will continue to grow.
You are not a victim of your inbox – you can exercise control over what you receive. Below are some suggestions on how to reduce your volume of incoming email messages. Try some of the tips and let me know how they work.
Clarify to Co-workers When to Email You (and when NOT to)
Human nature is to take the safest route. It is easier to copy your boss than risk not keeping him/her informed. Talk to your boss and your direct reports. Clarify when a cc: is the best action versus when to save information for a future one-on-one meeting. Most of the time, a daily or weekly status report that summarizes recent decisions and actions can replace tens or sometimes hundreds of email messages sent and received.
Create a “Disposable” Email Account
There are many providers, such as Google, that allow you to create a free email account. Use this account for web transactions and purchases. If the address starts to receive too much spam, you can disable it and create a new one.
Turn Off Incoming Email Alerts
By default, most email programs will alert you whenever you receive a new message. Like Pavlov’s dog, these visual and auditory notifications can prompt us to immediately respond. You need to be appropriately responsive to incoming mail, not necessarily instantly responsive. Being instantly responsive discourages people from contacting you through any other mechanism, and encourages more and more email.
Disable Social Media Notifications
By default, social media applications email you almost constantly. It’s as if you must instantly know when you have a new friend or someone has posted something amazing. Take ten minutes and navigate through the settings of every social media tool you use. Be intentional about your email notifications. If you worry that you will forget to go into LinkedIn and accept invitations to connect, add a task to your to-do list to visit the site once a week to do so. Don’t let FOMO (fear of missing out) distract you. While you are at it, disable the notifications on your mobile devices, too.
Avoid “Read Receipts”
Thankfully, attaching a read receipt to an email is not as popular as it once was. That’s probably because each time you attach a read or delivery receipt to an email, you do two things: annoy the recipient, and generate more email for yourself.
Limit Unsolicited Email
Okay, folks. I am well aware that spam is a continuing problem in email management today. Dealing with this issue is complex. I received a phone call last week from a salesperson who had collected my personal information simply because I had read an article on his company’s website. I had not logged in or signed up for their newsletter – just browsed the site. I felt like a guest star on Person of Interest.
In an era of uncontrolled access to personal information, here are some steps you can take:
- Do not provide your contact information in stores when making a purchase. They don’t need your email address to sell you a shirt.
- If you put your business card in the fishbowl drawing for a free lunch, you are likely getting a lifetime membership on an email distribution list.
- Always uncheck the box “Sign me up for your amazing coupons and specials!”
- If there is an unsubscribe link, use it. If the vendor does not honor your unsubscribe, block them or set up an Outlook Rule to automatically send their emails to the Deleted Items folder.
Take Extreme Measures
There are companies who tout that they have solved their email problems with web collaboration tools and/or new policies (Email-Free Friday!). Although I do fall into the “email is a dying medium” camp, I encourage caution. If we add more options instead of replacing email with something else, I believe that we muddy the waters of communication further. If you or your company decides to take a more extreme stance against email, make sure you simultaneously plan its death date.
Conclusion: Change Begins at Home
You have the power to reduce the growth of your inbox. Be discerning when sending email. Every email you send not only transmits a message, but also tells the receiver how you want them to communicate with you. Choose the communication tool that best fits your message, not the most convenient one. You’ll save time in the long run through better end results and fewer misunderstandings along the way.
Dr. Melissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) is a work psychologist who helps overwhelmed and underappreciated business people be more focused and effective. Since 2007, thousands of people have graduated with honors from her onsite sessions, distance coaching, productivity seminars, and corporate consulting projects. Based in Savannah, Georgia, Melissa is available for nationwide consulting and speaking engagements. Contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 912-417-2505. Sign up for her free monthly e-newsletter or visit her website, melissagratias.com. Dr. Melissa promises that visiting her website will not result in CIA-like tracking of your personal information.
Thank you, Melissa, for a fun and informative blog. My readers will be grateful.