E-mail hell

As I travel, I'm often asked about taking control of your E-Mail Inbox and if there are any tricks or disciplines that I leverage to assist in this daily effort. Email has become so ingrained in our workday life that we rarely give it a second thought. In fact, for some, this is largely an unconscious effort. 

What are the best practices to tame an overflowing InBox and by extension how best to deal with the overwhelm of information?

First, I came across some fairly recent research* that reinforces the Inbox impact:

  • 11X per hour that users check their email
  • 84% keep their email client open in the background at all times
  • 87 is the average number of emails received daily
  • 70% share of all emails within 6 seconds of receipt
  • 64 is the average time in seconds to resume tasks 

Now. at the end of the day, when you tick off your list of accomplishments, do you see why you struggle? You look up and it is 5:00pm somewhere.

Some tips

  • Do a quick sample of the last 50 entered your Inbox—what percentage represent an immediate opportunity? What percentage are simply informational?
  • Scan and triage. If you can deal with the subject conveyed in the email in less than 2 minutes, deal with it. Otherwise, add it to your to-do's under the heading "Sometime/Never"
  • Don't answer too quickly or after hours.
  • Use the Pomodoro technique to clear the backlog. Put your mind at ease. If your hard drive crashed, and you had no backup, the data is gone anyway. 
  • The best times to send an email if you want a response is early in the week-between 8 and noon is best. 
  • The trick to negotiating by email is to recognize what it lacks–context on non-verbal richness or visual body language cues.
  • Don't worry about SOME ALL CAPS. You've heard the old adage that all caps "sends" the misperception of anger  or shouting.
  • I've seen this go both ways-use emoticons (or not). I personally prefer emoticons in texts— not in email.
  • Pay attention to the small stuff (like punctuation and grammar) before you hit send. Proof it.

*Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing published in the WSJ 3-12-2018