Do you dread checking your emails, knowing you'll find an overflowing inbox waiting for you? Does the very thought create so much anxiety that you delay this task, often with dire consequences? You're not alone. You're suffering from email overload, and it's a common problem for many businesses today.
A staggering 26% of workers list too many emails in their inbox as one of their top workplace challenges. Yet this doesn't have to be your reality. Once you've identified the problem, you can take the necessary steps to resolve it. This guide will help you do exactly that.
You'll learn why email overload is a symptom of deeper causes and how it leads to even bigger problems. You'll also discover seven strategies to put an end to overload forever.
What Is Email Overload?
It's that overwhelming feeling that you get when your email inbox is always too full and seems unmanageable. If you receive too many emails in a short time, or more than you feel you can handle alone, you've got email overload!
This problem has several causes. Some or all of them may be true for you. And it takes some brutal honesty to tackle these root causes.
What Causes It?
Some of the main causes of this common issue are:
- 1. Procrastination
- 2. Time pressures
- 3. Uncertainty over job role
- 4. Unbalanced workloads
- 5. Ineffective communication skills
- 6. Unsuitable email management techniques
If you aren't feeling up to going through emails methodically, that inbox grows. This makes procrastination more likely the next time around. And the next. Sadly, any time pressures you were under will become even more urgent, leaving less time to attend to each email.
Perhaps the problem is more a matter of uncertainty over your role or an imbalance in workload. You may be putting off reading certain emails because you aren't sure if you're the right person to deal with them. Alternatively, you may be handling more work than usual due to staffing issues.
The problem may also be your team's communication skills. When you don't know how to delegate emails to the right people, this will turn your inbox into a nightmare. The wrong email management tools (or lack thereof) will make this even harder.
Why Is Email Overload a Problem?
Email overload affects not only the people overwhelmed by their inboxes but also the rest of the company. The toll it takes on the workforce indirectly affects their customers, too.
That's because of the cycle of problems that it creates:
- 1. Increased stress and anxiety
- 2. Strained work-life balance
- 3. Reduction in productivity
- 4. Breakdown in communication
- 5. Lost important emails
- 6. Decline in customer service standards
And all of that leads to even further stress and anxiety. But now, that anxiety is shared by everyone.
Is It Avoidable?
Luckily, email overload and its causes are all avoidable. But you need to start right away. The longer you delay, the more your anxiety over your email inbox will mount.
It isn't always easy to spot, though. In the earliest stages, it can go undetected. That's why the first thing you need to do is determine that your team is suffering from this problem. By looking for common signs of overload, you'll know how best to fix it.
5 Signs Your Team Has Email Overload
Here are the five most common signs that your team is suffering from overflowing inboxes:
1. Ineffective Team Communication
Have you noticed a breakdown in the chain of interoffice and business communication? This may be because your team has overlooked important emails and not passed them on to the relevant departments.
2. Too Many Unread Emails
Are your team members regularly complaining about how many unread emails they have? This is not a tolerable situation in the workplace. Urgent business matters could be falling by the wayside.
3. Missed Deadlines
Missed deadlines are a major red flag to watch out for. It's impossible to stay on top of deadlines when emails are neglected.
4. You Receive Regular Follow-Up Emails
Because urgent emails are getting lost in the growing inbox mountain, your team isn't responding to them. This will cause a constant barrage of follow-up emails from collaborators and/or clients. Unfortunately, this compounds the problem of the overflowing inbox!
5. Frustrated Customers
A lack of communication with your customers will cause them much frustration. If you notice an increase in customer complaints, it may be due to email overload and your team neglecting to follow up with them. This could lead to your company's reputation taking a nosedive.
7 Strategies to Reduce Email Overload
If you've noticed the above signs of overload in your team, don't despair. Follow these seven strategies, and you'll soon be back on track again.
1. Identify Problem Areas
Identify the problem areas you have with your email inboxes. For some, this will be too many subscriptions and junk mail. For others, it will be an accumulation of emails that are important but not relevant right now. This will give you some direction as to what you need to focus on right away.
Remember the underlying causes we mentioned earlier? It may be time for a bit of workload restructuring. You'll potentially solve many problems at once.
2. Schedule Email Time
The best way to start a new routine is to schedule a specific time for it. This will quickly become a habit, and soon, checking and responding to emails will no longer seem like an arduous chore. This time slot will be slightly different for each company, but it's best to set it for the start of the workday.
In this way, checking emails doesn't have to compete with other tasks. It's easy to get distracted by other duties, and that's how email overload gets the upper hand again. So, schedule regular, dedicated time for emails, and stick to it.
3. Use Email Filters
Email filters can be a big help when tackling your inbox. An email filter allows you to set a rule for specific types of incoming messages, or messages from specific senders. When an incoming email matches that rule, it will be moved, categorized, or deleted as the rule has dictated.
An example of this is that incoming messages identified as spam and potentially harmful to your computer are automatically deleted. Email providers generally have some preset filters to choose from, but a few of them also allow you to customize these rules.
4. Prioritize Important Emails
Not all emails are alike; some are more urgent than others. Learn to tell the difference and prioritize more important emails. Create custom folders for your top projects and biggest clients. Mark all important emails with a star, then go through them methodically and attend to anything that is required of them.
Always prioritize important emails over general messages and newsletters. In the business world, every second counts. Delaying a response to an important email could mean the difference between a profitable partnership and a missed opportunity.
5. Manage Your Subscriptions
Subscriptions can be helpful and even fun, but they can also outlive their usefulness and become a nuisance. If you want to keep a subscription going, that's fine. But you don't have to keep every newsletter that is sent to you. Save the important ones in customized folders, and delete the rest.
Unsubscribe from subscriptions you no longer want or need. You may find that you're receiving marketing emails from a company you don't remember interacting with. If their content isn't relevant or useful to you, it's time to hit ‘unsubscribe' at the bottom of the newsletter.
6. The Two-Minute Rule
The two-minute rule is not an email-specific rule, but rather a productivity technique that works great for emails. This technique entails doing any task that could be handled in two minutes or less immediately.
While you might not be able to handle all your emails in the inbox in two minutes or less, you can do at least one email-centered activity. Delete your junk mail. Empty the email trash bin. Forward an important email to a colleague who needs to know about its contents. There's a lot you can do in two minutes!
7. The 'Four Ds' Method
The ‘Four Ds' method is a very effective tool used in the Inbox Zero approach. The ‘Ds' stand for delete, delegate, defer, and do (in no particular order). This describes the four actions that can resolve virtually any email situation you encounter in your inbox.
Here's how to implement the ‘Four Ds':
- Delete any emails that aren't important enough to keep. Remember to read through each email first to check that it's safe to delete it. Don't just assume it from the subject line.
- Delegate any emails that are better suited for a coworker to attend to. Forward these emails with a note explaining that you are delegating this task. That will prevent any confusion.
- Defer any emails that, while important, aren't urgent at this time. Schedule a time to attend to these. Enter any important dates into your calendar.
- Do whatever is asked of you in the important emails. This can include replying to confirm that you've read the email and taken the necessary actions, like a receipt confirmation or customer service response.
By following this method, you'll quickly do away with email overload. The ‘Four Ds' make it easier to remember each step.
Email overload can have several causes, from time pressures to a failure to delegate properly. However, the result is always the same: a breakdown of what should be the most effective communication system in your company.
So, is it inevitable? No. When you follow the seven strategies above to manage email overload, it'll become a relic of your company's past. And to help you deal with it more effectively, there's Helpmonks!
We've helped countless companies take charge of their emails and streamline their processes. Want to get on top of your inbox too? Register for a free account today and enjoy the best in affordable, user-friendly email management.