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How to overcome email overwhelm.

How to overcome email overwhelm.


I recently had a client ask me how do I avoid becoming overwhelmed?

Reality is, in today’s hectic society, overwhelm is just part of the game we play but it is up to us to decide what rules are we going to play by.

One of the main contributors to daily overwhelmed is email. Ask anyone how many mails are sitting in their Inbox unread – the answers can be shocking! The problem is no one teaches us how to ‘Manage’ our Outlook or G Mail account and everyone is left to their own methods or lack of.

The other big creator of overwhelm is the expectation of an instant response to e mails 24/7. Depending on your company response time policy, rather than allowing senders get into the habit of expecting an immediate reply – it is worth agreeing some communication ground rules with them in advance by setting a time limit for when you will get back to them. In my instance I have added a line to my signature which says: E mail response time within 24 hours – if matter is urgent text or call me on my mobile. Obviously I have provided my mobile number in my signature.

Worth talking it through with your colleagues and agreeing a policy and procedure that will work for everyone and in turn any new hires can be shown ‘how we do things around here’.

How often have you been working on a task or responding to an email when you are interrupted by an incoming message showing up in your alerts – the natural tendency is to click on the alert to see who the email is from and what it is about. According to a study conducted by the University of California on the cost of digital distraction, that simple distraction can take as much as 25 minutes for the individual to return to the original task on hand – no wonder we never seem to get anything done. The solution to this problem is to switch off all digital distractions and to put time aside to check e mails every 30 minutes and stick to it. Give it a try – switch off your alerts and set aside uninterrupted blocks of time for focused work – in fact why don’t you give the Pomodoro Technique a try – it really works.

Deleting unsolicited and junk emails every other day probably takes most of us way too long unless you have a good spam filter installed and you regularly go through your list of mails and ruthlessly ‘Unsubscribe’ from the lists you ‘Accidentally’ signed up for or better still assign them to the ‘Junk’ folder.

I learnt a good practice for email management a few years back called the ‘4D’ method:

  • Delete it: the easiest of all the options and needs no explanation
  • Do it: if the activity is going to take you 2 minutes or less, as soon as you click on the mail simply do whatever has to be done straight away
  • Delegate It: that is of course if you are fortunate enough to have someone who you can delegate the task to, alternatively there maybe someone in your organization who is in a better position to handle the issue than yourself
  • Defer It: Pop the email into your Task Manager with a Reminder date when you need to take action and forget about it till then.

Whatever method you use do not let your email take over your life – book time in your calendar once or twice a week to ‘Clean out’ your inbox and while you are at it set up folders to file your mail into which should replicate your filing system on your main storage system or in the Cloud. All good house keeping.

The key to not getting overwhelmed is to get yourself focused on one primary objective or goal – and to always ask yourself does each activity you undertake move you toward a specific goal and if it doesn’t you need to question why you are doing it in the first place. We can all be busy people and broke fools.

Then once you hit that target start moving the line and stay focused on the end goal. If it doesn’t help you get closer to your goal, don’t give it any of your precious mental bandwidth!

I like to look at each day as being: Meaningful, Efficient and Profitable.

Easier said than done however… trust me, I know!

About the author

Howard Kent: Kent Consulting Ireland are a Marketing & Business Growth consultancy providing Business Coaching & Mentoring to SME Business Owners

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