7 Ways To Be Ruthless With Your Email

Sometimes you just have to be ruthless with your email.  Otherwise, it will run you over like a freight train.

This weekend, there was an interesting USA Today article about a Harris Interactive poll that showed that more than 50 emails a day is the tipping point for most people to be overwhelmed by their work email.

Does this sound like you?  Do you drown in your work email to the point that eventually you start over every few weeks?

Some think it is ok to let email pile sky high.  They think that just because it is not paper, it is OK to keep 10,000 emails in their inbox.

However, if your desk at work had that much piled up, don’t you think your boss would take action?  Why is virtual clutter more acceptable than a physical mess?

So, to that end, here are 7 tough tips to keep your email in check…

7 Ways to Be Ruthless with Your Email

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Delete It – This one fear is what keeps many people’s inbox overflowing.  They are worried they may delete something important.  This leads to email paralysis.  I recommend being quick to delete (or archive if you feel better) your messages.  Your gut is often right about whether or not you will need something again.  Either way, get it out of your inbox and into an archive folder.  And trust me, if you do delete something important.  It will come back to your inbox again.  Probably several times.
  2. Not All Email is Worthy of a Response – This tip is going to upset a few people.  However, you spamming me does not mean that I have to waste my time responding to you.  And yes, work spam counts.  There are people who are masters of shuffling email to make it look like they are working.  Resist the temptation to respond to every frivolous email that is popped into your inbox.  Avoid engaging the email shufflers.  I knew one manager who was so prevalent at forwarding emails that he would often forward his co-workers’ emails back to them like it was a new idea.  Amazing!
  3. You Open It, You Own It – This is one of my favorites.  You just opened that email asking if you want to do lunch next week.  So, you close it and decide to look at it again later, and it sits in your inbox.  Instead, if you open an email take action right then.  Either answer it, file it, or add it to your todo list.  Then get the email out of your inbox.  This one tip can change the landscape of your inbox forever.
  4. Don’t Subscribe to Mailing Lists – If you are trying to keep your email under control, why do you keep subscribing to email lists?  Take the few moments to unsubscribe from lists you are on.  You don’t need the airline specials or latest web deals in your inbox.  If the sender has made it difficult to unsubscribe, then simply block email from them.  Also, as an alternative, use RSS to get the information you need from websites instead of joining their mailing list.
  5. Don’t Read Email When You Shouldn’t – Do you read your email at night before bed?  On weekends? On vacation?  Why?  Are you going to take action on it immediately?  Probably not.  Only read email when you are in a position to take action.  Otherwise, you are just creating unnecessary stress for yourself.  Remember, email should be a tool, not a leash.
  6. Do Not Let Email Rule Your Time – This is an important one.  If you let it, email will take up all your time.  I have seen people that let email take up 75% of their work day.  However, for most, email is not your work. Many people make this confusion.  So, get out of your email and get to your work.  Set boundaries and time limits to ensure that email does not take up an inordinate amount of your time.
  7. Set Expectations Around Your Email – If people expect you to sit in front of your computer all day long and jump every time they send you something, then they will keep expecting you to do it!  Ensure that the standard you set is that email is for non-urgent communication.  If something is urgent, make sure your colleagues call you or come see you in person.

Get Tough With Your Email

Sometimes you have to use a little force to keep your email in check.  Don’t be afraid to get a little tough with your email.

Your inbox will thank you.

What are your best tips on being ruthless with your email? How do you keep it under control?


TMN’s 9 Laws for Work Email

Too Many Mailboxes… Where Is Your Email Going?

5 Reasons Email Is Now Snail Mail

13 thoughts on “7 Ways To Be Ruthless With Your Email

  1. Is it cheating if I have my assistant handle it? lol While I do have my assistant handle the majority of my email, there are many that I have to handle myself. So that my inbox doesn't monopolize my day, I check it at regularly scheduled intervals during the day. I allocate an hour to go through and respond and/or process any emails in my box. This keeps me focused on more productive work throughout the day and email still gets handled in a timely manner.

  2. Here are two more tips I suggest to clients:
    1. Create your own templates and FAQs to respond quickly to common requests for information.
    2. Delete emails that don't make specific requests. If you balk at that, develop a standard reply that asks “what do you need and when do you need it by?” Note: your emails to others should include this information.

  3. re: @TMNinja 2 more tips I’ve implemented:1) create a folder for ALL non human email

    2) learn a few of the many keyboard shortcuts for Outlook ~> its amazing how fast you can cut thru email #in

  4. re: @TMNinja 2 more tips I’ve implemented:1) create a folder for ALL non human email

    2) learn a few of the many keyboard shortcuts for Outlook ~> its amazing how fast you can cut thru email #in

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