Are You Overwhelmed by Email?

We all know the feeling. No matter how many times you respond, delete, or move your emails, the number of unread, unsorted and unanswered ones keep building. The result is stress – every single time you open your inbox.

“Email has become the biggest and worst interrupter the universe has ever experienced,” says Marsha Egan, a workplace productivity coach and author of Inbox Detox and the Habit of E-mail Excellence. ‘It’s cheap, it’s immediate, and you can copy 200 people if you want to.”

Not only that, says Cary Cooper, organisational psychology professor at UK’s Manchester University, but the added stress affects our health.

“Email overload is causing people to get ill,” he says. “It’s a great way to keep in touch with people, particularly who are remote,” he says. “It’s a great way to send data, to send information. By itself it’s fine – it’s the way people are using it that’s the problem.”

Get smarter with your email by putting up some boundaries.

  • Avoid opening each email as it arrives

Instead, process them in a batch, preferably just a few times a day. If this is not possible for you, then check email between other things, rather than while you are focusing on a specific task.

  • Stick to ‘the four Ds’.

Egan recommends this technique for every email you receive: do, delete, delegate or defer. If you can deal with it within two minutes, do it. Defer if it will take longer, popping it in a folder to which you return later. The key is to deal with each message before moving on to the next, to stop them all piling up unread. If you can, delegate the email to someone else, and always delete emails you do not need.

  • Turn off notifications.

Constant dings telling you that you have mail makes it almost impossible to stay focused, and your productivity will plunge.

  • Find and delete.

There are easy ways to filter out messages you can quickly delete – for instance, any that you are copied in on that are more than three days old.

  • Unsubscribe.

Those newsletters that you thought you should read but never do? Delete and unsubscribe. The same goes for emails from shops you once bought from, or restaurants you once ate at. It takes a little longer than deleting, but you only have to do it once.