3 Simple Ideas to Conquer Email Overload

Every few months someone comes out with a new article on how to defeat email overload, and like the most recent diet fad, it gets some love and then goes away. Only, the volume of email continues to grow and the death of it is greatly exaggerated. I have a few friends that prefer texting and/or DMing over Twitter, but overall email dominates, big time.

Here are three simple ideas to conquer email overload:

  1. Only read emails in your inbox once and reply immediately if it’ll take less than two minutes to handle, otherwise promptly sort it into an appropriate folder
  2. Don’t — I repeat don’t — set your email program to automatically retrieve email, instead make it a manual process to get new messages (with Gmail make “Sent Mail” your homepage so that you don’t see when new messages come in)
  3. Allocate five time slots per day to check email, put them on your calendar as recurring events, and stick to it — don’t let email own you

Handling email is like handling anything else: make a plan, keep it simple, execute, and iterate. Conquer email with these three simple ideas and don’t look back.

What else? What are your thoughts on these three simple ideas to conquer email overload?

8 thoughts on “3 Simple Ideas to Conquer Email Overload

  1. Email management is pain. I love the “if you can do it in under 2 minutes” GTD model. Sometimes things take longer and need to be done later or you are waiting on someone else to do something.

    The most recent tool I have been testing to help with this is called ActiveInbox. It’s pretty cool. It turns emails into tasks. It’s got some traction and is easy to install on Chrome.

    http://www.activeinboxhq.com/index.php

    ~eric

  2. Serendipitous timing. I just this past week spent several days organizing my email rules. I get a lot of email newsletters to keep current, but they were owning me. I literally used to spend 4 hours a day on email but after this I’ve been able to spend about 30 minutes a day. I’m using Mac Mail because I prefer a desktop client so I found Mail Tags and Mail Act-On both for Mac and am using that.

    I am basically using inbox rules to tag almost every message with the folder where I will file it and then when I read email I can now just hit a keystroke and the message is filed. I can go through 100 messages in about 15 minutes now and that used to take me 2 hours.

    However, we’ll have to see if it works as an ongoing strategy; don’t know yet.

  3. Email is a huge problem for me. (Currently have 150 unread emails). I use gmail business email and I still have not found a good solution that works for me.
    I like the idea of ActiveInbox suggested, I’m going to test it out later.
    I have been flipping between using gmail through chrome and desktop client thunderbird. I keep going back to chrome because the search facility is much quicker. I am also trying to use RememberTheMilk which sits as an add-on next to my inbox in chrome. But still trying to keep on top on my emails and tasks in gmail & remember the milk is not working.

    In gmail I am using the classic inbox. I have tried to use the unread and priority filters but did not perceiver.

  4. Besides doing email only at set times per day, I have 4 folders in my email:
    1. Inbox – new items
    2. Follow-Up – items i need to respond to
    3. Hold – responses I am waiting for from others
    4. Archive – emails that are not in folders 1-3

    During my set email times I respond in the following order
    1. Inbox – Triage. If I can do it in <=2 mins, I respond
    2. Follow-Up – If the task will take 30 mins or more, I will schedule time in my calendar
    3. Hold – if I need to remind people I do

    I don't waste time with a bunch of folders and subfolders. Search is so powerful now that I can find anything I need.

  5. I am in the same boat as are most folks in any decision making role. Yet there are still companies (a lot of them in the high-tech start-up segment) who believe an email blast is the best approach for marketing and lead generation.

  6. I read an article today suggesting a cool acronym to help me remember my cardinal email rule: OHIO, or, Only Handle it Once. I notice that even when I read an email and save it for later, if I handle that email more than twice, I tend to subconsciously value that email less and less each time I touch it.

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