3 ways to win the war against your inbox

You left the office at 7 p.m. last night — and emails were still coming in. After the kids were asleep, you responded to 20 or so. This morning, over coffee, you replied to about 10 more. Still, when you entered your office today, 60 new emails were waiting. 

Sound familiar? This is the world in which we live. The overuse of email is killing productivity, efficiency and (perhaps) even the message medium itself.

I struggle with this problem constantly. How are you supposed to do your job when you get more than 100 non-spam emails a day? If you are copied to keep you in the loop on a project or subject, how do you resist the urge to reply?

Experts suggest limiting your “email time” to two or three times a day. How can you realistically do this without appearing unresponsive to your clients and customers?


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According to technology market research firm The Radicati Group, by 2015 the average corporate user will deal with more than 125 emails per day. More than 30 percent of the typical workday will be devoted to email-related tasks.

Enough is enough! Here are three ways to help you regain control over your inbox:

  1. Be short and judicious: There are several movements urging users to keep emails short — one, two, or three sentences (see http://two.sentenc.es/)— and others promoting the judicious use of email.
  2. Go back to instant messaging (IM) and other forms of communicating: Remember AOL Instant Messaging (AIM)? There are a variety of IM platforms out there. Many companies have implemented them to reduce the internal email exchange. If you have a quick question that can be addressed with a call or IM to a colleague, go that route. Save email communications for when there really are no other options. If colleagues communicate exclusively via IM, phone or meeting, all email traffic will be external to the company.
  3. Control your own agenda: Don’t let your inbox control you — or act as your to-do list. Instead, have a list of three priority items that you want to get done each day. With a list of focus items, you begin to control your agenda, as opposed to giving control to others.

People who use email as a to-do list are subject to others’ agendas. Anyone can add to that to-do list — at any time — just by hitting send. Combatting this situation takes laser-focus and iron-clad self-control. Intentionality is far more effective than reactively responding to emails as soon as they come in — especially once the first two steps are implemented.


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Email overload is a significant business problem that impacts our productivity, efficiency and sanity — at least until email is replaced as the primary means of corporate communication.

Yes, I said it. The rise of a generation of workers who grew up with social media and texting, combined with our collective frustration with this medium, will fuel the slow decline of email. 


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