Our email-related habits do not make our work easier. Common bad practices include overusing the CC: field, excessive use of folders to organize messages and instantly checking every new notification. Using counterproductive solutions is costly as it consumes time you could spend on more important tasks and breeds frustration.
Here is how you can avoid drowning in the emails flooding your team’s inbox.
Hidden costs of email communication
One‑third of employees spend an hour every day managing their inbox – which includes searching, sorting, organizing and deleting messages. Constant access to email on mobile devices blurs the boundary between professional and private life, and the workday is becoming increasingly long as a result.
Enormous amounts of incoming messages and their copies, large attachments, multi‑recipient threads that drag on and on – these are only a few factors which lead to email overload. Your employees experience the consequences of this every day: anxiety, aversion to face‑to‑face communication, the sense of losing control and being enslaved by emails. Message overload can make work unbearable, as it often results in feeling overloaded with work.
In addition, having to carry out tasks and communicate via email at the same time leads to a productivity hit. On average, it takes 68 seconds to refocus on the task at hand every time you check your mail.
Does your team have to deal with hundreds of emails every day and is always short on time?
These methods are an effective way to manage email overload:
1. Check your mail regularly, but not all the time
Check your mailbox at set times every day (that is, of course, if responding to emails is your main responsibility). Research says that the optimal frequency for checking your mail is between 2 and 4 times per day.
Avoid constantly checking your mailbox and do not allow every new notification to disrupt your work. Close your mailbox when you are not actively using it.
2. Act instantly…
Do not mix pending and closed issues. When checking your mail, focus on the messages which you can instantly redirect, archive or delete.
Respond to short messages on an ongoing basis, especially if the total reading and responding time does not exceed 2 minutes.
3. …or plan your response
Will you need more than 2 minutes? Convert the message into a planned task and place it outside the inbox. Your mailbox is not really cut out to serve as a task management tool. Once opened, a thread is difficult to differentiate from other incoming messages, and the information and attachments contained there are scattered.
An alternative is to use a ticket management system which automatically converts emails into tasks, which are then added to the appropriate pipeline.
4. Don’t over‑organize
Do you put every message in a folder dedicated to that client or project? Research conducted by IBM indicates that it takes 15 seconds less to just use the search function instead of browsing folders.
However, folders are indeed useful when categorizing messages by status (Pending response, Respond today, Reminder required).
You can automate mailbox organization by integrating it with a ticket management system (like OTRS, for example).
5. Don’t overuse CC: and BCC:
One‑fourth of employees think they receive too many copies of emails that they do not need. Be an example to others – carefully select your recipients, think twice before clicking Reply to all, and ask to be removed from the list of recipients if a thread does not concern you.
6. Filter messages before opening
Choose phrases which will allow the program to differentiate between important and unwanted messages. When the topic, content or address field contains a particular word, the message can be archived or have its priority set to high without you having to stop what you are currently doing.
A Help Desk system can also notify employees on duty via SMS when a malfunction occurs, for example.
7. Delegate what you are not responsible for
Sometimes you may receive a message that falls outside the scope of your responsibilities, either due to an error or because it was sent to everyone. Avoid wasting time on gathering data, formulating a reply and coordinating communication between recipients. Instead, simply redirect the message to the appropriate person.
A ticket system enables you to easily manage assignments.
8. Save time using reply templates
Many of the messages you reply to can easily be categorized, such as Scope of service questions, Ticket for quotation, or Feedback. Create reply templates for a smoother first contact with clients.
Personalizing replies (by using the name of the recipient or referring to the content of the original message) will take you less time than starting from scratch.
Survey Results: What Slows Down Team Productivity. OTRS, 2018.
Performance Improvement, Managing Email Overload in the Workplace. Kim McMurtry, 2014.
MIT Technology Review, Stop Organizing Your E-mail, Says Study. Christopher Mims, 2011.