A Proven Method to Manage Email Overload at Work
“I open my laptop and here we go—a “missile” has landed in my mailbox. Holding my breath, I squinted in hope that the message will disappear, that it only exists in my vivid imagination. Slowly I opened my eyes, but I could still see it. The sender was my new boss. I didn’t even want to read the subject. Most of the messages are urgent. All projects are critical. The deadlines are ASAP.
That’s overwhelming. I have to stop this email overload.
Being locked at home for several weeks without babysitters and helpers, fighting with my husband for a quiet space to run business calls, trying to calm down three kids who are jumping around full of energy looking for attention or snacks, or both – all this doesn’t help either. I closed the email and tried to focus on the global report I’ve been working on. Ten minutes later I realized that I didn’t make any progress and that my thoughts are on this email. I open my inbox again – just to discover that the “missile” was an invitation to catch up!!”
When a very successful executive female leader, ambitious, focused, organized shared this story at the beginning of our coaching session, she was almost shaking. It is no surprise that the pandemic added a lot of pressure to her global business role, affected her daily routine, and made even more complicated the transformation process her company kicked off a few months ago. As a result, the emails were piling up—urgent, important, political, aggressive—triggering all range of emotions of my usually cool and rational client. She found herself procrastinating and, hence, wanted to find more efficient and less taxing ways of managing email overload. As well as her emotional reaction to these “missiles”.
By the end of the session, smiling and obviously relieved, she equipped herself with the “Emails Classifier”. In other words, with a simple method which helped her manage email overload differently—calmer and more productively.
Let’s take a look at her method—it might be useful for you, too!
Just do it
These are emails that require few minutes of concentration. Hence, act or ignore, delete or archive, and move on. Touch it once rule is the best way of dealing with these type of emails.
Some emails initiate a project—big or small. When you work in cross-cultural and cross-geographical environment – it’s important to have clarity on deliverables and deadlines prior to cascade the project to your organization. Clarify is the best rule for this type.
Complex problem solving
These are emails surfacing the complex problem which involve research, investigation, analyses, making a decision, developing solution. You know how to do it, you are a professional. While you’re initiating the problem-solving process, block time in your calendar for each stage of the process including your “thinking time”. Plan time for quality thinking.
Sometimes we receive “aggressive” emails. The ones which we perceived as an “attack”. Triggered by particular words and by our assumptions of what is written between the lines we’re tempted to write back, sometimes adding few more people on cc. However, an immediate written reply—even a politically correct one—is not the best way to deal with an “attack”. Assume the best intention on the other side, put your “Curious Hat” on and call the sender. Personal contact is the best way of dealing with these type of emails.
The host might have added an agenda, the list of documents, and actions in preparation for the meeting. Therefore, you may want to ask for more time to prepare for the call, decline the invitation, assign your team member to attend. Check the content is the rule.
It's not my monkey
The message was not addressed to you. But something is pushing you to get involved. Do you want to share an idea, take ownership? Or you’re about to provide unsolicited feedback, unneeded explanation, or simply want to be “noticed”? What’s your intention of getting involved? If you don’t have anything constructive to say—don’t. Take a pause.
Not all the messages are about challenges, more work, or lessons learned. There are “thank you” notes, words of inspiration, encouraging news. Open your heart and embrace positivity, celebrate, and be grateful – the way of dealing with these type of emails.
What has happened with a missile type then? To my client’s biggest surprise it disappeared. As you most probably guessed, my client realized that “missiles” are all about our perception and feelings.
The session created a safe space to process emotions, analyze perceptions and regain composure. In that space, a very successful female leader—ambitious, focused, organized—was able to remind herself that she is capable, professional, and resourceful. as a result, she found her own way to manage email overload.
A few weeks later I received an update from my executive client that she is successfully using the “Email Classifier” and fine-tuning it as she goes. To her great delight, she was feeling much calmer and her efficiency improved significantly.
Save these as an inspiration for later!