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Combating Email Overload

Combat Boots

When I got my first email account in 1996 (I’m a late bloomer to some and and an early adopter to others), I emailed everyone I knew.  One of the first things I would ask you was “What is your email address?” I thought it was one of the most useful things that I had ever encountered.  15 years later, I’m not sure if I feel the same way.  No, I’m sure I don’t feel the same way.  Not only do I have an email account for work, but I have a personal one (actually three), I get email sent to me through Facebook Messages, through LinkedIn, through Flickr – wow.  Talk about overload. Not to mention the 60+ listservs I am subscribed to (many due to my responsibilities at the NN/LM GMR and other outside interests).  I was reading a few of the books in the GMR Lending Library and came away with some useful information.

The most common reason for email overload is that people use the inbox for purposes it wasn’t designed for:

  • To-do list
  • Filing system (rather than putting them in their proper folder)
  • Calendar
  • Bookmarks list
  • Address book

How to combat email overload:

  • Empty the inbox at least once a day
  • Read all personal e-mails, then delete them
  • Delete all spam mail
  • Engage FYI’s and action items and then delete or file them
  • Clear the Sent Items folder of unnecessary items

Seven Reasons to Love Email

  1. Email is the best medium ever created for exchanging essential information.
  2. You can reach almost anyone on email.
  3. Email knows no time zones – it’s an efficient and economical way to communicate with people around the world.
  4. Email gives you a searchable record.
  5. Email allows you to craft your message – or your response – on your terms and on your own schedule.
  6. You have the choice of preserving and presenting parts or all of a string of preexisting emails.
  7. Email lets you attach and include additional information that the recipient can retrieve when and if they choose to do so.

Eight Reasons to Hate Email

  1. The ease of email encourages unnecessary exchanges.
  2. Email has largely replaced the phone call, but not every phone call should be replaced.
  3. You can reach everyone, but everyone can reach you.
  4. The fact that email defies time zones also means that it can defy propriety.
  5. The fact that email always provides a searchable record means that you can be held accountable for your electronic correspondence.
  6. The ease with which an email can be forwarded poses a danger.
  7. With email, your words can be changed.
  8. Email attachments don’t just come with baggage, they are baggage. (Viruses, etc.)

Some rules to follow:

  1. If you wouldn’t stop by a colleague’s office every ten minutes for a chat, you probably don’t want to email him/her frivolously thirty times a day.
  2. Conveying an emotion, handling a delicate situation, testing the waters – all these challenges are usually better undertaken with the human voice.
  3. Don’t forget that every email is an interruption.
  4. If you’re working with weasels, watch their emails like a hawk.
  5. If you need to send a sensitive document via email, one where it’s essential that your words not be messed with, send your message in a .pdf, or other hard-to-alter attachment.
  6. Never forward anything without permission, and assume everything you write will be forwarded.

Subject Lines

Useless subject lines:

  • Re: FYI
  • Great news!
  • Urgent
  • Status
  • Quick question
  • We would like your assistance

Useful subject lines:

  • Comments on the strategic plan
  • Itinerary for Rosalva Diaz / Princess Cruises
  • Expenses approved for National Wellness
  • Acquisitions meeting agenda
  • Missing award documents

There are two books in the GMR Lending Library which are good to read on this topic:

Bit Literacy: Productivity in the age of information and e-mail overload, by Mark Hurst

SEND: The essential guide to email for office and home, by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe

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