Hit Zero Inbox: Here’s How To Manage Email Overload in 2023
Ever had the Sunday Scaries?
That feeling of dread you experience before the workweek begins, knowing your to-do list is as long as your arm and your sleep is going to be short and fitful.
Knowing that when you settle into work and open your email inbox, you’ll have to confront your 808 unread emails as more pour in throughout the day.
You might specialize in healthcare software solutions, develop the latest tech, or streamline the customer lifecycle management process – whatever your business, email overload can have a serious impact.
Free to use image sourced from Pexels
Email overload is exactly what it sounds like: the inability to stay on top of your work or personal emails – and frequently both.
You have too many emails coming in and not enough time to respond. This can impact your personal performance, as well as the efficiency of your business.
The answer to this is hitting zero inbox – not necessarily having an empty email inbox, but having zero unread emails, a manageable communication load, and a much more organized inbox.
How to recognize email overload
Recognizing the signs of email overload is the first step to hitting zero inbox. So here are some things to look out for:
Is your team communicating effectively?
Jeff has sent Sally three important follow-up emails about their last meeting, but Sally’s unread emails are sitting in the hundreds.
Workplace tensions are creeping ever-higher. Sally’s going on more and more frequent smoke breaks. Project management is off the rails. And Jeff still doesn’t know what font he’s supposed to use in the latest marketing campaign.
Email overload can hinder workplace communication. If information isn’t being disseminated efficiently, you risk deadline delays, confusion amongst your teammates, and essential details falling through the cracks.
Are you losing or missing important messages?
As well as hindering communication in general, having an overloaded inbox puts you at risk of missing things.
New emails push old emails down the list. Once that list is long enough, will you ever get around to those old emails? What if they’re important? What if they contain that one piece of information you’ve wasted hours searching for?
It’s too easy to overlook, delete, or become blind to that needle in the haystack.
Are your external communications suffering?
If your customers are constantly waiting days or weeks for a response from you, or if you’re receiving complaints about your lack of customer service, you might be suffering from email overload.
Lowering your AHT (average handle time) is vital to building a good business with repeat service.
Email overload puts you at risk of driving away your valued customers and clients.
Are you checking emails after work?
A good work-life balance is vital for all of us.
Going home to compulsively check your inbox, reply to emails, and follow up on meetings is the opposite of a good work-life balance.
If you can’t finish all of the above during work hours, and spend large amounts of your downtime trying to play catch-up, you definitely have email overload.
There are some rather alarming statistics that show a poor work-life balance can impact health, relationships, and productivity.
Image sourced from ergonomictrends.com
This leads us to the impact of email overload on your company
Humans and businesses alike are systems, and overloaded systems lead to degradation, negative performance, and eventual failure.
Whether you’re a company offering email verification services or an individual freelancer who writes website code, you can be impacted by email overload.
Impact to employees
We talked about the importance of a good work-life balance.
Email overload isn’t the whole story, of course, but it is a contributing factor.
Spending hours a day trying to get on top of communications; constantly breaking off from important projects to answer queries; scrolling through your inbox on your lunch break; replying to colleagues in bed; even just worrying about your unread emails piling up, knowing you’ll have to deal with them at some point.
This can kill personal productivity and lead to burnout.
Impact to companies
It stands to reason that stressed and burnt-out employees negatively impact your company as a whole.
Unhappy employees are sprucing up their resumes; if your company’s goal is employee retention, you need to understand the impact of email overload on your business.
Emails pull attention away from work. They break focus, and focus can be difficult to redirect back to important tasks. If your employees spend large amounts of time getting through their inboxes, they’re not working efficiently.
This can have a detrimental impact on your company. You might lose business opportunities by taking too long to respond to prospects. You might be setting back deadlines by losing vital information. You might devalue your carefully-crafted email campaign by getting bogged down playing email catch-up.
None of this is conducive to productivity, for individuals or your business.
So how do you achieve a zero inbox?
We’ve clarified that zero inbox doesn’t necessarily mean zero emails full stop. A zero inbox is a manageable inbox, and here are some proven techniques to achieve it.
Free to use image sourced from Unsplash
Communicate through other means
Emails are overrated.
Okay, that’s not true. Email is a miracle of modern technology that has revolutionized how we communicate.
But they have a time and a place, and that isn’t all the time and everywhere.
Sending an email already acknowledges that your query doesn’t need an immediate reply. Instant messages are like emails but quicker, allowing back-and-forth chat to happen at each person’s convenience.
If you need a quick answer to something, or need to talk something out, voice calls are still one of the best communication tools.
Face to face
Some things still benefit from face-to-face interaction. Throwing around ideas with a team or discussing important information at length can work better with in-person meetings or video calls.
Are you being bombarded with follow-up emails after a meeting?
If so, maybe your meetings aren’t as productive as they could be.
Plan meetings carefully to answer as many questions as possible, and allow time at the end for follow-up questions, summations, and important discussion.
And when you do write your follow-up emails, ensure they’re high quality, readable, and contain the necessary information.
Set expectations on response times
Roadblocks to timely communication can be caused by things like the complexity of the issue or businesses operating over different time zones.
Aside from using different channels, setting realistic expectations for responses can help both employees and customers relax.
You could set company email policies, including that all emails will receive an acknowledgement within 24 hours. This way, you’re alleviating people’s concerns over being ignored, as well as the urge to keep checking their inbox all day. The receiver of the email can then assess how long the query will take them to resolve, and set a realistic timeframe for a proper response.
The sender is assured by the quick first contact resolution, and the receiver has given themselves enough time to properly address the issue.
Allot time to manage your inbox
Constantly monitoring your inbox can add pressure and steal your attention from other tasks.
Set aside times during the day for checking your email.
This will be different depending on the person and the industry, but scheduling set times for inbox management can help you stay more organized and less distracted.
Try first thing in the morning, just before lunch, and at the end of the day. Or maybe you work better spending several consecutive hours dealing with emails and the rest of your day working on other things.
Whatever your schedule, having one will let your mind focus on one thing at a time.
Create email folders
Email folders can be an overlooked tool in your arsenal, but they’re a great system for filing information.
Use folders to organize your emails into categories or priority levels. Once you’ve read something, figure out where it goes and put it in its place.
You can even take your organization further and have separate email accounts for work, personal things, sign-ups, etc.
Setting filters to block junk, people, or specific spam words in subject lines is a good start.
You can also use email automation to streamline your ingoing and outgoing messages. Like automating the acknowledgement process with a simple “we have received your email…” that triggers upon a customer inquiry. Or email templates that cover a set of frequently asked questions.
Delete, unsubscribe, mark as spam
Be ruthless. Take no prisoners.
If there are old, unimportant emails you’re never going to get around to, delete them.
If there’s spam getting through your filters, mark it.
If there’s a blog you used to love but no longer read, unsubscribe from that mailing list.
You’re trying to achieve a zero inbox – important communications that you’re reading, responding to, and filing efficiently.
Reach Zero Inbox in No Time
It is possible to work more productively, communicate more efficiently, and leave your work stress where it belongs: at work.
With a thorough spring clean of your inbox, and a few proven strategies to stop email overload creeping back in, you can reach a zero inbox in no time.