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Email - Managing Your Inbox

Causes of email overload

  • Too many messages
  • Too long messages
  • Not enough time
  • Difficult to decide what to respond to first
  • Thoughtfulness required

Effects of email overload

A research study, Case Study: evaluating the effect of email interruptions within the workplace authored by Thomas Jackson of Loughborough University found that 70% of arriving emails were reacted to within 6 seconds. Once the email was addressed, it took an average employee 64 seconds to resume working at the same rate they were before the interruption.

Tips -- try one of these for a week!

Deal with each message only once (Getting Things Done)

    • If action required, then do it, delegate it, or defer it.
    • If no action required, then file it, delete it, or incubate it.
    • Flag or file deferred messages. Ignore the read messages. Keep for future searches.

Organize messages by importance and urgency

    • Rules automatically file messages into folders (advice from Inbox Zero)
    • Use priority inbox to separate bulk mail, starred items, and unread items
    • Use different color stars to indicate priority levels

Master the one-line response

    • A short response may do the recipient a favor (Inbox Zero)
    • Reply with a link.
    • Ask a question.
    • "I don't know."
    • Know when not to reply.

Limit email interruptions, read email in bunches

    • Turn off desktop notifications 
    • Check mail no more frequently than every 20 min
    • Quit your email when you need a distraction-free workspace.
    • Build a habit of reading email at specific times of day (hourly at most) and with a clear purpose.

Strengthen your scanning techniques

    • Scan senders and subjects first. Pass over some messages immediately.
    • Scan the first line of each paragraph. Pass over some messages based on that.
    • Read some messages all the way through.

Eliminate extraneous email

    • Limit list subscriptions and write rules to file the others.
    • Put a stop to "reply-all" chains.
    • Pick up the phone or walk to a colleague for a change.
    • Separate your work and personal email.

Use Search to find old messages

    • Search has become much more effective of late.
    • Use keywords to find messages by text or by mail field (sender, subject, etc.)
    • Search Sent Items to review a message you sent to someone else.
    • Only put items in Trash that you really never want to see again.



- Created and hung an email etiquette poster around campus (
- Held trainings on how to better triage email (
- Streamlined internal and external communications into daily bulletins and weekly newsletters (e.g.,
- Distribute copies of the book Send, Getting Things Done
- adopt the email charter:  Focus on one tip each month

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