January 25, 2011

How to cut your incoming email by half (and get more done)

If you are getting too many emails, it's likely you are a manager.

Depending on your corporate or company culture, it's easy to get 100 or 200 emails a day - all expecting your precious attention.  There are less leaders than two years ago, so more people report to you or feel the need to report to you.  The CC/CYA gang copies you on everything, the good the bad and the irrelevant.  You've made your way on so many internal distribution lists, your blackberry sounds like a Vegas casino, going off all the time 24/7.  

So what to do?  You can't possible keep doing this, and expect to get any time to think through the problems of the business.  You can't ignore it, because it will just pile up and when your Inbox has 500 in it, you'll feel pressure and likely feel depressed.  And guilty. 

A few years ago, I was getting over 300 emails a day, and it was crushing me.  So, after doing some research, to coin a Tim Ferriss term, I built a hack for it.  Within 90 days, I cut my incoming emails to less than 100 a day, and my Inbox never had more than about 40 or 50 items in it to be filed/responded to or deleted.  How did I do it? 

1 - Sell The Group On Low Information: Tell every one of your email buddies that you are going on a low information, or need-to-read, diet.  Explain that by being more succinct and self-reliant, we'll have enough time to solve problems and innovate.  Tell direct reports to consider this part of their annual review (Return On Attention). 

2 - Use the CLEAR system on repeat offenders.  This is where you send a nicely-but-firmly written letter (see post) that instructs people to ask five questions before they send you and email:  *C/Is it connected to my job? *L/Give me a list of what you want me to do about it. *E/What do you expect from me in this situation? *A/What are my avenues to delegate? R/What's the return on my attention and time?  This really reduced the noise level.  For many, they never considered things from my point of view. 

3 - Tell people to Stamp Out Reply To All.  Put it in your email footer (Please join me in my SORTA campaign to Stamp Out Reply To All!) 

4 - Don't respond to every email, just the ones where your response adds value.  Silence on your end can certainly close the loop in many situations - and those who are just noise will realize that you are either not reading them, or choosing not to respond.  

Visit www.EmailAtoZ.com for more ideas or to find out about my training program for companies. 




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I personally don't have an email problem (not yet), but I see from colleagues that email problems are often connected to misuse of the medium. Many people email for reasons that could easily see a solution through other means, or over-email for non-work related matters. Nice suggestions, I'll be sure to forward this to those colleagues, by email of course ;)

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