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.