Email: We Just Can’t Quit It, But We Can Make It Better For All

Guess how many unread or unopened emails the average U.S. employee has at any given time?

June 30th, 2019
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Guess how many unread or unopened emails the average U.S. employee has at any given time?

The number is 199, according to the “2017-2018 State of Enterprise Work Report” by Workfront Resources. Isn’t that pretty shocking?

According to that same Workfront study, 60% of respondents agreed that “The time I have to spend dealing with email is a time I could be more productive.”

And yet, we just can’t quit email.

Reduce that Overwhelmed Feeling

If you’re feeling crushed by email, try this:

  • To get less, send less. Do you really need to send an email? I use this tactic all the time at Brigade Bookkeeping. A phone call or a meeting might be the better option, especially if something is urgent.
  • End your email with a declaration, not another question. Decide where to meet and at what time, for example.
  • Develop auto responses. Provide a calendar link so they can check your availability and set their own meeting. Direct people to collaborative project management tools that will answer their questions about timelines, deadlines, and locations of materials.
  • Use meaningful subject lines. Avoid “Re: Re: Re: Meeting” or “Help.” Better to say, “Revised project deadline” or “Help with client question about pricing.”
  • Aim for brevity and clarity. If you’re concise they’ll reciprocate. Shorter emails = less time spent on each and a higher probability of getting through the unopened ones. I always aim to share shorter emails.

Unread for “organizational purposes”

Alyse Kalish of The Muse asked people why they had so many unread emails. The responses made me laugh and were enlightening:

  • “It reminds me to answer them.”
  • “I use them as my to-do list for the day.”
  • “I keep them unopened if I know I want to read them at some point but don’t have time now.”
  • “It’s easier to find them.”
  • “It’s spam, I don’t have to read them.”

Kalish found we have unopened emails to stay organized, ironically enough. For this issue, try the following:

  • Eliminate the fluff. Turn off social media notifications. Mark unwanted emails as junk so they never show up in your inbox again.
  • Reconsider if the email is necessary. For example, if you get notifications about bill payments, yet you pay on the same day every month, do you still need an email reminder? Enter it as a to-do on your calendar instead.
  • Find alternatives to “staying organized.” Luckily many tools and apps are available to help you stay on task, work collaboratively and never miss a deadline.

We can’t completely eliminate email. I know this firsthand. What we can do is reduce our stress about the time and attention we need to give emails. If we model the email etiquette we want to see from others, sane and sensible emailing will catch on!

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