Depending on who you talk to, the use of email is one of the greatest advances in business communications or the worst thing to affect productivity in the past several decades. Every CEO and business owner knows what it’s like to open his or her inbox to a deluge of emails—many of which aren’t worth their precious time.
If you’re a business leader who’s truly committed to effective time management, it’s essential to get a grip on this issue, or risk losing even more time and effort when these resources are in such rare supply. Here are suggestions for tackling email overload and freeing up your time for more critically important business objectives:
Get a protocol in place. According to productivity experts, email overload is symptomatic of a larger organization problem—the absence of clear-cut protocols. “If your organization has ambiguous decision-making processes and people don’t get what they need from their colleagues, they’ll flood the system with email and meeting requests,” notes Amy Gallo at Harvard Business Review. This results in a potentially crippling backlog, “which leads to even more email and meeting requests from frustrated co-workers trying to follow up.”
The key is establishing guidelines for everyone in the organization (including you!). Suggested protocols can include:
- Limit the sending of emails to people who have a genuine action item
- Determine when it’s necessary to copy co-workers and when it’s not appropriate.
- Pause before you hit “Send” and asking yourself, is there a more efficient way to get my questions answered (i.e., calling on the phone sending an instant message).
Invite employees to offer their own suggestions on how to curb email overload and then implement the most effective suggestions into a company-wide email policy.
Control the flow of your own email output. Are you guilty of sending too many emails to people in your company on a daily basis? This can be particularly troublesome if key policy or organizational issues are being discussed via email, necessarily requiring a great deal of back-and-forth discussion. (In such circumstances, email is a notably inefficient resource.) Make more selective use of the “Reply All” tool (and request that others reduce the number of “For Your Information” emails they send you every day).
It’s a simple principle: The fewer emails you send out, the fewer will come back to clog your inbox.
Unsubscribe! Speaking of your inbox, how many irrelevant emails do you get from sites you subscribed to in the distant past? Whether it’s a sales newsletter, promotional messages about exclusive vacation offers or notices from online publications you no longer read, take every opportunity to click on “Unsubscribe” when these messages appear. It generally only takes a few minutes to complete this process—and saves you untold amounts of time and distraction when they no longer pop up in your inbox, demanding your attention.
Make use of email productivity apps and collaboration tools. There are plenty of apps designed to help users organize and control what appears in their inboxes. Enlist the help of an assistant or someone in IT to install the right app to reduce the flow of unwanted (or non-urgent) emails you see on a daily basis.
Also, if your team is presently using email as a collaboration tool for ongoing projects, opt instead for more advanced collaborative resources (Google Documents is a good start, but there are many other tools out there). This way, people can conveniently access the information they need from co-workers on a shared site, rather than communicate incessantly via email (and often copy managers or others). This alone can significantly cut down on the flow of emails throughout your company.
Communications is always a top business priority, but by setting guidelines and adopting the use of superior technology, it doesn’t have to consume nearly as much time and energy as in the past. Email remains a great tool, as long as you stay in control of it, rather than the other way around.
Want more advice on making your business more productive? Check out TAB's PULSE Survey on Business Leaders and Productivity.