Handling email overload

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13 June 2019
Written by Speak First Linked-in icon

Handling email overload
Your inbox rarely takes a break. In our increasingly connected world, where you’re always expected to be contactable, how can you stay on top of your emails without it feeling like climbing Everest every time you look at your inbox?

We have put together some important tips that will help you to handle your emails efficiently and that will stop them from overwhelming you.


Check emails periodically

Emails come through constantly. For people working in international companies or with clients around the world, you really can receive emails 24 hours a day. It is important not to let them completely take over your life. You need to sleep at some point!

Rather than reading every email the moment the desktop notification pops up, or your phone buzzes, set a few minutes aside every so often to check what has come through. Turning off your phone’s notifications will also give you some respite from your emails, otherwise, you’ll never get anything else done.


Set aside dedicated time to respond to and write emails

Similarly, you don’t have to spend your entire life writing and replying to emails. Most emails can wait a few minutes, and if you’re working on a particular task, you don’t want your focus constantly lost to email replies.

Set aside some specific time throughout the day to reply to emails (which doesn’t necessarily need to be the same time you set aside to read them). This will put you in a better frame of mind to consider your responses, and will help your other work since it stops you getting distracted and losing your train of thought.


Aim to process your inbox to zero every single time

Merlin Mann, an American writer, blogger and podcaster, developed a radical new approach to email management – Inbox Zero. The idea is that every time you open your inbox, you should be able to process it down to zero. This will help make your inbox seem more reasonable to look at, rather than having to trawl through hundreds of old emails to find what you need.

Mann’s method is that for every email you receive, you should be able to do one of five things with it:

• Delete it – throw it straight in the trash.
• Delegate it – pass it on to someone else and make a note to follow it up with them later.
• Store it – save a record of it in case you need to reference it another time.
• Do – take immediate action if it’s urgent or there’s just one quick and simple step to take.
• Defer – add it to your to do list. Acknowledge the request if you need to, then file it in a folder.

If you don’t take these actions, your inbox will keep growing, becoming cluttered and full of old emails you no longer need. You’ll be tempted to open and reopen the same email many times, because you didn’t get rid of it, which is a real time waster.

Additionally, make sure you are fully utilising Outlook’s functions for setting automatic rules for managing your emails. For example, you can automatically send all emails from particular clients, or with a certain phrase in the subject line into their own folder. This can be a useful trick for keeping everything organised and easy to find, without having to manually sort through each email as it arrives.

By recognising which of these works best for each email, and aiming to finish each session with an empty inbox, you will be able to speed up the process of managing your emails, regardless of how many you get each day.


We look more into this Zero Inbox approach in our other post 6 Steps to Developing Personal Effectiveness, where we show you other ways to improve your daily productivity.