Email Miniseries: You’ve Got Way Too Much Mail

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The email series will be more of a miniseries, but I figured I had so many things to say about email that it wouldn’t all fit into one post.

Does anyone else ever feel totally defeated and beaten down by their email inbox(es)? I can’t be the only one. I am one person, and my email inbox is 100 people asking for a piece of me, my life, my time, my soul. Okay, so it’s not quite that dramatic anymore, but I have lived through my own personal email black hole. I often wonder what other people’s inboxes look like when I send an email. Isn’t that weird? I ask myself, how do they do it?

What’s in your email inbox?

Emails can fall into one or more of the following categories: tasks, reference material, and unnecessary communication. As managers of often multiple email inboxes, it is our job to identify which type of information we are dealing with, and move each item along to its final destination as quickly as possible. An email inbox is a queue to process just as a task list is. It is not a filing system.

Sometimes I get the chance to take a peek at someone else’s inbox. I think it is common for the inbox screen to be overflowing into multiple pages. I must admit that as I type, I have allowed my Gmail inbox to overflow into about 4 different page views over the past week. I am certainly no email saint, but I have developed my own personal email processing system that allows me to take back some of my sense of inner peace while still functioning in an email-crazed world.

If I send less email, will I receive less email?

This idea came to me a while back when I was battling my overflowing inboxes and trying to regain some control. I realized that I was part of the problem. It seems logical that if I send out fewer emails, then maybe people will feel less compelled to write me back, right? I’m not sure that I ever really got very serious about reducing the number of emails I send out, but I definitely have become more mindful about the emails I end up sending. Now sometimes I will start to write an email, and then realize I can solve the problem on my own, or think of a better way to handle the issue rather than adding to the potential junkiness of someone else’s inbox.

I also have become more sparing in my use of the Reply All and CC options. If I am copied on something or get caught on a reply all message, I try to make it a point to very quickly determine if there is anything I need to do with the email and take immediate action, preferably sending it to the happy little digital trash can if possible. Even though I can try to take small strides towards reducing the email clutter I put out into the world, I can’t change how other people are going to interact with the freedom to type up a note and send it to an email address I am in charge of. All I can do is adjust my response.

Short, Sweet, & Positive

I have heard that a good rule for email length is to keep it at less than 6 sentences; less than 3 is even better. I will admit that this is a weakness of mine. As a writer, I actually enjoy writing out emails (even though I don’t so much enjoy the concept of email, in case you couldn’t already tell!), and sometimes find myself writing paragraphs when I definitely don’t need that much detail. I also feel like I probably spend way too much time reviewing and re-reading my emails before I send them out. I am certain I am not alone in this, because other people have told me that they too obsessively re-read emails before sending them out.

Sometimes I will obsessively re-read an email and then edit out the extra sentence or two to bring it down to 6 sentences or less. I am sure this is a major waste of time, so I am trying to just keep them shorter from the get-go.

I have also gotten in trouble in my distant past for not being friendly enough in my emails. At the time I thought people just wanted short, business-like communications in the workplace. I was informed otherwise, and ever since then I have probably wasted a lot of precious time overly obsessing about being nice in text, just so no one gets the wrong idea that I am not nice. I am friendly, I promise!

When you add up the time spent trying to be nice, trying to be succinct, and processing the sheer volume of incoming email, who knows how many minutes that is? At the end of the day, we have no control over what other people might send into our lives. We can, however, take control of our response. Tomorrow I will go into the details of my personal system for processing emails and how to create a blissfully blank screen in an email inbox on a regular basis. Namaste!

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