Stop the flood of emails

Don’t be controlled by your emails!

Over the last two weeks, I had a number of clients and readers asking me a VIQ, a very important question: how do you stop the email madness? They’re bombarded with emails and their inbox is taking on a life of its own. One of my clients was happy to share her story of how we got her to become the master of her emails, rather than email dedicating her life.

Let me introduce you to Amanda*. She is leading a service team based over 3 different continents and due to the time zones, the team has to operate via email as one communication channel. Very often, the team copied Amanda into the email as an FYI. With over 12,000 emails just in the inbox, more in the subfolders, there was a lot of information sitting around – often doing nothing.

For Amanda, it was a real struggle to leave her inbox and give her full attention to her own projects or when attending meetings. For Amanda, this became a bigger issue as she was falling behind on meeting her objectives.

Does this sound familiar to you?

We started by changing Amanda’ perception about having to know about every email the minute it came in. We turned off the pop-up notification window informing her about new mail. “You got mail!” was maybe cute in the 1990s but it’s a nuisance these days. Even though the pop up is only there for a few seconds, it’s long enough to interrupt whatever you where doing. It’s expected that it takes you 2-3 minutes to get back into the activity you were doing. Fair enough, some activities may be easier and quicker for you to resume. If you’re getting 300 emails a day, you can calculate the number of disturbances yourself. Quite a bit of lost time!


Now, we left the little closed envelope icon for Amanda to see any new mail at least arrive without a sound or pop up notification. If you want to see how your life would be without even seeing that icon, try it! I’d love to write your comment below.

Having taken the most disruptive obstacle out of Amanda’s life, we made a second change. That was as revolutionary as the first one and yet, created one of the biggest improvements for my client: Checking emails less frequently. You’ve heard it before and it still holds true. Instead of checking every 5 minutes, let your inbox be and focus on another activity for let’s say 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, you could glance at what had come in. As Amanda felt more comfortable not reading every email the minute it came in, we increased the “no checking the inbox” box time to 25 minutes (psychologically easier to handle the 30 minutes) and eventually to 45 minutes. This was a huge step and didn’t happen over night or 2.

As Amanda became more comfortable not checking emails so frequently, we also introduced a new concept: Closing Outlook (or whatever email programme you’re using) completely. Temptation is removed and focusing on another application is so much easier. Closing applications or documents you’re not using has also a very beneficial side effect. Open documents unnecessarily take up space in your mental thinking area. Closing them gives your brain space to think.

The next changes were more about how Amanda Organised her emails. With a high volume of emails sent and received each day, we set up rules for incoming emails. Newsletters would go into a specific newsletter folder and only read once a week, generally on the last working day of the week, after lunch, when things were quieter. Meeting requests would also go into a new folder and she’d review this 3 times a day (in the morning, after lunch and before going home). This gave her more control of what meetings were to be out on her calendar. Being a visual person, we colour coded a few emails: those from her boss in blue, her favourite colour, and from her team leaders in green. That allowed to quickly spot any VIP senders and read their emails first.

We also created some email templates for her emails. Amanda has some recurring topics and we prepared a generic template that she can chose when replying. This saves tremendous time and typing!

Finally, her team is following a specific email titling methodology. This is fantastic for Amanda to scan her list of emails and when she’s searching for emails.

Have you been able to stop the flood of emails coming into your inbox today? If you haven’t, how’re you managing them? Are you in control or being controlled? I’d love to help you and become the master of your emails. Contact me to find out how I can help you.

Until next time,

* We changed her name.

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