I understand more than anyone how difficult it can be to keep email from running your life. I’m an “Inbox Zero” kinda girl. So I thought I’d talk about some of the strategies and tools I use to keep my inbox from dictating my day, my workload and my life. Watch How To Keep Email From […]
5 Hacks to Combat Email Overload, by Ryan Holmes (CEO of Hootsuite)
I now spend more time in my email inbox than I do on the phone, on social media (yup!), or in meetings.
Volume is a huge problem. I receive a few hundred emails a day, but I don’t think it’s just me—we’re all getting busy on email. According to a recent study, the average business user wades through 114 emails daily. Our inboxes have become an open door for anything and everything, some of which is pure spam and most of which is neither time-sensitive nor relevant in the here and now.
All of this is can be seriously detrimental to productive people. Did you know that the average employee checks their email 36 times an hour? But the worst part is, each time we’re distracted dealing with emails, it takes 16 whole minutes on average to refocus on the task at hand. Start doing the math and it’s a wonder we get anything else done.
I know how easy it can be to end up on the hamster wheel of responding to emails. So here are five techniques I use to manage my constantly overflowing email inbox:
1. Adopt the three sentences philosophy. Guy Kawasaki suggests an effective emailis five sentences…but I say three! I’ve recently even added a custom signature for all my emails, that says: “Sorry for the short response. I wish I could be more thorough, but it isn’t possible with the volume of emails I receive,” along with a link to a site that explains the philosophy in a bit more detail: http://three.sentenc.es/. The three sentences principle has worked extremely well for me. Treating all of my email messages like SMS text messages has been like going to communications boot camp. It trains you to leave out the fluff and keep only the most essential parts in an email. And if you find you absolutely say more, you can just pick up phone or go and talk in person.
2. Use SaneBox to filter noisy stuff out. SaneBox is a cloud-based service that filters email. It uses a unique algorithm to start sorting through your incoming emails and puts messages that are considered non-priority into a designated @SaneLater folder (that you can check at your convenience). I love this system. It’s cheap, effective and simple. And it works with all major email providers, like Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, or Apple Mail. SaneBox has saved me a lot of time and lets me rest assured that all my top priority emails aren’t being drowned out by lesser important ones. Another great aspect of SaneBox is it’s intuitive, which means if you move a message from your @SaneLater folder into your inbox, it remembers it for next time.
3. Shift conversations over to social media. Email was never intended for collaborative work. Try setting up a meeting time with a group on email and that becomes painfully obvious. Messages flood in, getting out of sync and leaving users scrolling madly to track the conversation. And what about the important information that gets lost in these never-ending company threads? All of that locked-up knowledge represents a massive, wasted reserve of internal expertise. A better option: Facebook-style discussion threads where multiple employees can post, reply, and view centrally in real time. We’ve developed such a tool for businesses called Conversations. Our 300 employees use it daily to share top company highlights and key information with each other. Other effective email-alternatives to internal collaboration are Yammer, social networking for the Enterprise, and Nimble, a unique collaboration tool for small businesses that combines CRM with social media.
4. Use an autoresponder that redirects people to the right place. Being the face ofour company, I get a lot of mail from all sorts of people with all sorts requests. These range from job inquiries to event speaking requests for other members of my executive team. I want to help everyone, but this outlook ended up with me becoming resident air traffic controller rather than CEO. The solution? I’ve now set up an autoresponder message that is configured to help get people connected to the right people asap. It says, “Sorry, my email volume has become overloaded, I have set up this automation to hopefully help you get connected with the right people at HootSuite.” Below this is a list of contact information for the right point people across other departments of my company, like HR and Sales.
It’s worked wonders. This type of autoresponder is like sticking a signpost in the ground that directs people to the right place. It can also give you peace of mind that you’re getting back to well-meaning people in an honest and helpful way.
5. Create a Canned Responses with Gmail for messages you send often. Like me,do you often type out emails while wondering, “Didn’t I just write this same email?” TheCanned Responses feature in Gmail is a perfect solution. It lets you keep a little library of messages you send frequently, that you can access when composing a new email, with just two simple clicks. Gmail will automatically plug the chosen message into the top of your reply, and all you have to do is hit send.
Bonus tip: Silence annoying group Gmail threads with the Mute feature. Did you know about the Mute button for Gmail? It’s great for making those long annoying email threads involving too many people, disappear like magic. Next time your inbox starts getting congested with coworkers starting to reply like dominos to a group thread, just select the conversation and click Mute in the ‘More actions’ drop-down menu. From then on, any new responses added to that conversation bypass your inbox and be archived for later.
Email. Love it or hate it, you just can’t avoid it—especially in the workplace. And the problem is that it can make a serious dent in your productivity on the job. So start taking your workday back by incorporating the above tactics, or share some of your own ways of coping, in the comments below.
I now spend more time in my email inbox than I do on the phone, on social media (yup!), or in meetings. Volume is a huge problem. I receive a few hundred emails a day, but I don’t think it’s just me
Blog post at Asian Efficiency - Time Management and Productivity : Let’s talk about email management - a topic no knowledge worker ever gets any coaching on. That is quite strange considering that emai[..]
10 Rules to Reverse Email Overload Spiral And Save Time: Part 3
The finish line to becoming email experts is just within reach. You’ve mastered how to respect recipient’s time, celebrated clarity, quashed open-ended questions, slashed surplus cc’s and tightened your threads. Training’s been vigorous, but you’ve made it through and now’s the time to test out your endurance for the last lap. Let’s check out the final 4 rules to reversing the email spiral as we come to the end of the Email Charter.
Rule 7: Attack Attachments
Sometimes fancy signatures or company logos at the end of your email appear as attachments to your message. Typically, when there is an attachment to an email your recipient will assume that it is something intended for them to download. Their time is wasted trying to see if there’s something to open. You can solve this problem by using a standard signature including your name, title and appropriate contact information. Or, if you still desire a distinguished signature there are sites like WiseStamp that will create unique signatures without any attachments. You can even go so far as to add a headshot.
Another attachment faux pas is attaching documents with text that could have simply been included in the body of your email. Take a few extra seconds to copy and paste the information to the message. This way you save time for your recipient and keep everything in one place.
Rule 8: Give these Gifts: EOM NNTR
Abbreviated Coded Rendition Of Name Yielding Meaning. ACRONYM. If your email message can be expressed in half a dozen words, give the gift of an acronym to offer a heads up to your recipients. Try putting EOM (End of Message) after your subject line so you save them the 30 seconds it takes to open an email. For example: “Staff Meeting at 9am Tuesday. EOM” You get your message across and shave a few seconds off of someone’s busy work day.
Another worthwhile acronym to test out is NNTR (No Need to Respond). Tag it on to the end of a message that requires no response. You’ve just cut an email out of their to-do list and saved yourself a click or two in your inbox. Many acronyms confuse as much as help, but these two are golden and deserve wide adoption. Hopefully it will catch on around the office and you’ll be the next workplace trendsetter.
Rule 9: Cut Contentless Responses
You’ve just adopted the NNTR method to avoiding unnecessary responses, now’s the time to follow your own system. Before you hit the send button, which can’t be undone, ask yourself “Will this make a difference?” If your response does not define or develop the conversation then take a safe bet and cut it out. You don’t need to reply to every email; especially not those that are themselves clear responses. An email saying, “Thanks for your note. I’m in.” does not need you to reply “Great.” Unless your message engages a new direction or stimulates further response don’t bother hitting that button.
Rule 10: Disconnect!
A GradSource study reminded us that “learning occurs when what you put into short-term-memory connects with what you already know which is stored in long-term-memory.” By giving yourself a 10-minuet break every 50 minutes you have a higher rate of retaining information. When you are constantly connected to your inbox, you’re not giving yourself enough time to process all the information that you’re feeding your brain. Give yourself a break to rejuvenate and recharge. If you can’t commit to small increments throughout the day, consider calendaring half-days at work where you can’t go online or make a pledge to email-free weekends with an ‘auto-response’ that references this charter. If we all agreed to spend less time doing email, we’d all get less email! Give each other a break and catch up on the things your missing when your eyes are glued to your smartphone and, don’t forget to smell the roses.
Tips to Reduce E-Mail Overload in Your Organization
According to a study by Gartner/eCompany, employees claim thаt 34% оf thе internal email theу receive іѕ unnecessary (wow). Try theѕе tips tо reduce email overload inside yоur organization.
Use informative headings
Use аn informative text message fоr thе subject line. Your reader dоesn’t еvеn havе tо spend time opening thе email. They саn read аnd delete. They gеt thе message аnd theу save time.
Use headings іn thе body оf yоur email too. Think abоut reading а newspaper. How оftеn dо уоu јuѕt scan thе headlines? The ѕame applies tо уour email. Structure yоur email logically, аnd provide а heading fоr eaсh paragraph. Your reader wіll bе ablе tо find key information quickly bу eіther scanning оr searching.
Differentiate betweеn urgent and non-urgent emails
Is уоur message critical, urgent, оr can wait? Assist your team bу flagging urgent emails (but for heaven’s sake, don’t abuse it.)
Group уоur ‘internal comms’ and send thеm аt thе ѕаmе time eасh day
A study bу Scottish universities Glasgow аnd Paisley revealed thаt ѕоme staff checked thеir in-boxes 30-40 times рer hour (admit it, you do it too!) A lot has been said about the efficiency of dealing wіth emails аt set times еach day. But what if you start sending internal communications аt thе ѕаmе time eасh day, as well?
An email aggregation tool enables internal email aggregation іnto а company newsletter. So, rаther thаn IT sending аn email update abоut а planned outage, marketing sending product information updates, аnd HR sending thеir staffing updates оut vіа email, аll of theѕе messages cаn bе consolidated іntо thе samе summary quickly аnd easily (kind of like the SaneBox daily summary).
Manage group email lists аnd dоn’t deal іn internal spam
How оftеn dо уоu оr yоur staff open аn email аnd thеn spend severаl minutes deciding іf уоu nеed tо read іt оr not? What а waste оf time аnd email storage space! Try appointing аn email gatekeeper: ѕomеоne whо knоwѕ еaсh email group, whаt information iѕ relevant to еасh group, аnd whаt еaсh group nееds tо know. The gatekeeper ensures eаch group receives оnly relevant emails.
Target уоur audience аnd make emails relevant tо them.
So whеn уоu arе writing аn email, think abоut thе people whо wіll read it. Then write tо thеm іn language thеу wіll understand. Make thе message relevant tо thеm аnd thеir role. Tell thеm whу уоu arе writing tо thеm аnd whаt yоu wаnt thеm tо know, thіnk оr do. Whether уou arе sending informative emails оr publishing аn internal magazine, уоu nеed tо knоw уоur audience.
Before уоu email, aѕk уоurѕelf “Is email thе bеѕt waу to communicate thіѕ message?”
This is probably the most important tip of all. Email іѕ uѕеd аt times tо convey sensitive оr еvеn unpleasant messages, but thіs іѕ simply nоt good practice. Examine аnd promote alternative ways оf conveying thе message. Why nоt uѕe а staff meeting instead, so that questions can be addressed live instead of in a long email thread?
The Email Charter: 10 Rules to Reverse the Email Overload Spiral: Part 2
Previously we revisited the lost endeavor of “paying it forward” and integrating the idea into daily email rituals. We evaluated our email communication and what we could do on our end to make life a little easier for the recipients of our messages. Now that we’ve mastered how to respect each others time, let’s keep pushing to become email Samaritans.
As promised, here are the next three steps of the Email Charter.
Rule 4: Quash Open-Ended Questions
After reading an elaborate email stuffed with long paragraphs of turgid text, the last thing the reader wants to be bothered with is a dubious question like, “Thoughts?” While your intentions are only to help ease the readers mind, remember you’ve just packed a thirty-minute phone call into an email. The best way to provide a comforting valediction is to give clear options for the recipient if they choose to seek your help. Email generosity requires simplifying, easy-to-answer questions. “Can I help best by a) calling b) visiting or c) staying right out of it?!”
Rule 5: Slash Surplus cc’s
Have you ever been somewhere where the conversation is rolling and you thought to yourself, “No one would notice if I wasn’t here?” After the main points of the exchange were made, you felt no need to participate in the ongoing discussion. You could easily slip away and the focus of the group wouldn’t drift in the slightest; much like being cc’d on messages unrelated to anything of your concern. Being cc’d on an initially relevant message is no problem. However, receiving emails from fellow cc’ers who have carelessly chosen ‘Reply All’ is like being stuck at an office party where the conversation and the open bar have run dry. From the start, for every recipient you add, you are dramatically multiplying total response time. Cut the superfluous. Maybe you only need to cc a couple of people on the original thread. Or none.
Rule 6: Tighten the Thread
How amazing would it be if we could click “remove” and instantly shed ten pounds? Unfortunately, loosing weight isn’t as easy as getting rid of excess threads. Relieve the build up of email threads to focus on what’s relevant. It’s rare that a thread should extend beyond three emails. If emailing starts to turn into texting, pick up the phone and make the call. Emails should be used for questions or notifications that require simple responses. Once emails begin to convert to ambiguous discourses nothing is being accomplished. Trim the weight of your email threads to stay on track and reduce scrolling through outdated information. Think of your email threads as a tight rope and you are a tight rope walker. To be effective you need to be focused and concise with no superfluous information. Tighten the content of your messages by eliminating extraneous threads this way you keep your rope tight and so there’s less risk of falling off (topic).
If you add these three tips along with the last edition’s tips you’ll become a pro at keeping emails and content to a minimum while keeping your context focused. Coupled with some handy tools for keeping e-mail overload under control in your own inbox, you should be all set. Stay tuned for the next 4 tips to Reversing the Email Spiral.