The average professional receives 121 emails per day. This number is far higher for executives and other professionals whose attention is in high demand from sales reps and internal groups.
With this many emails coming in daily, it’s challenging to keep up and prevent email from interfering with your work-life balance. Here are 10 hacks that will help you overcome email overload.
1) Unsubscribe From Everything that’s Not Urgent
The first step in combating email overload is reducing the number of automatic emails you receive. Here’s how:
- Unsubscribe from all unnecessary newsletters.
- Turn off email notifications from the tools you log into regularly.
- If possible, opt out of internal distribution lists that aren’t relevant to you.
What’s left in your inbox is messages from people reaching out for a specific reason. Doing this will easily spare your inbox a couple of hundred emails per week and, chances are, you won’t miss any of the emails you’re no longer receiving.
2) Write Clear, Action-Oriented Emails
Sending emails is only worth your time if your recipients fully understand and act on your messages. Unfortunately, that’s often not the case since people send confusing, poorly written emails.
To fully convey your messages, you need to write clear, concise emails that your recipients can immediately act upon.
Here are some tips to make your emails more effective:
- Get straight to the point. Fluffy commentary distracts from the message you’re trying to convey.
- Don’t assume people know information that you haven’t already shared with them. Include everything they need to know to do what you’re asking.
- Explicitly state the actions you want the other party to do and the actions you are taking.
- Don’t forget to include any links and files that you reference.
Though writing emails that follow these best practices can be time-consuming, it saves you time in the long run since your conversations will be more efficient.
3) Know When to Hop on a Call
One of the most time-consuming issues with email is that people continue to go back and forth trying - and often failing - to resolve misunderstandings. Miscommunications are challenging to deal with via email since people often struggle to communicate the nuances of what they need.
To prevent email overload, hop on a call every time someone appears confused in an email thread. A 10-20 minute conversation can efficiently resolve a misunderstanding that would have taken several emails.
4) Check Your Inbox Sparingly
Research shows that it takes an average of 25 minutes to fully refocus after a distraction. If you leave your email open all day, the constant notifications prevent you from focusing deeply on your work. This has severe implications for your productivity since your creative and problem-solving abilities are limited.
To prevent email overload from impacting the other areas of your work, check it three to four scheduled times throughout the day.
If you feel like you need to check more often, use times that are typically less productive including:
- Brief times between meetings and other activities when you don’t have time to make meaningful progress on another task.
- While riding public transit.
- When you’ve just finished a project and aren’t quite ready to start the next task.
Limiting email to these times ensures that it doesn’t interrupt higher-priority activities.
5) Use a Sorting System
If you check your emails in scheduled blocks, you’re going to have emails that you don’t have time to respond to at the moment. Instead of shifting to other tasks and hoping you remember to come back to urgent emails, sort them into folders, so they’re easy to find later.
There are three popular ways to sort your inbox:
- By urgency - create folders for urgent, somewhat urgent, and non-urgent emails
- By project - create folders for all of the major projects you’re working on
- By relationship - create folders for different kinds of contacts (ex. Prospects, clients, colleagues, etc.)
Which sorting method you choose depends on the types of emails you receive most often. Once you create a system that works for you, it becomes much easier to respond to the emails that matter most.
6) Leverage Email Templates
Email overload is driven equally by the number of emails you have to send as the number you receive. To reduce the amount of time you spend writing emails, create templates for all of the generic messages you send regularly.
Here are some easy ones to start with:
- Scheduling meetings - invitations and agendas
- Letting people know you’ll handle their request by a specific time
- Sending reminders for common things that people forget to do
And other types of emails that you send regularly. Having these templates saved in a folder will drastically reduce the amount of time you spend in your inbox.
7) Start Conversations with Your Preferred Platform
Hate email? Avoid starting conversations with it. Every time you send an email, you’re inviting replies to fill up your inbox. Reaching out to people via your preferred platform keeps the conversation in space that you’re able to manage more productively.
Keep in mind that this works best for your organization’s messaging apps and texting since those options give people the freedom to respond when they’re available.
If you prefer talking on the phone or in-person, you have to consider others’ schedules since starting a live conversation is disruptive, especially to people who spend a large portion of their time on independent projects. Try to grab people after meetings or when they’ve stepped away from their desks to increase the likelihood of them having a few minutes to chat.
8) Limit Email Threads to Relevant People
Transparency is a crucial feature of every great team; however, there are plenty of ways to create it without overloading everyone with emails. When you’re sending emails, only include individuals who have to be a part of the conversation. Not only does this spare the inboxes of people who didn’t need to be involved, but it also limits the number of responses you get.
If there are some people who you think should be aware of information but don’t need to participate in the conversation about a topic, there are two things you can do:
- Send them a separate email stating that you’re just sharing information, and there are no actions needed on their part.
- Post the information in an internal task management tool or wiki so that people can review the information on their own time.
These methods keep everyone on your team informed without overloading their inbox.
9) Avoid Replying All
Once you’ve narrowed the number of people that you include in an email thread, you can go a step further by limiting when you reply all. If your team follows your lead, it will save everyone tons of emails that, while related to the conversation topic, don’t affect them personally.
As a general rule, you should only reply all when you’re sharing information that is critical for the whole group and/or includes action items that you need volunteers for. As soon as you start discussing details that only affect a sub-sect of the group, start replying to just those people.
Another option to avoid replying all is inviting sub-groups to hop on a call and jump back into the email thread once they have an update that’s relevant for the entire group. This approach can be less confusing than starting several sub-threads.
10) Adopt a Task Management Tool
Email is one of the most inconvenient platforms to manage projects, and yet so many teams use emails to share project instructions and get updates on progress. Not only does this overload everyone’s inboxes, it also creates confusion since it’s easy for important messages to get lost or missed entirely.
If your team uses email for project updates, it’s time to adopt a task management tool.
Choose the tasks management tool that best fits your team’s needs. If they’re accustomed to self-managing and need a space to chat about their projects and track progress, then a simple option like Trello or Asana should work for you.
Though task management tools require an upfront investment to set up, they’ll save your team a ton of time on email and miscommunications.
Pro Tip: The default settings on most task management tools send a ton of notification emails. To avoid this and stay up-to-date, turn off all email notifications and instead commit to checking the software a couple of times a day.
Check out our Tools Database for more recommendations.
About the author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.