Ending email overload

We’ve had far too much moaning and groaning about “email overload.” It does exist, but “they” aren’t going to make it go away. You have to do that. Here’s how:

Don’t print it

A Globe & Mail article used the headline “Electronic messages burying workers.” The author described a U.S. study showing that technological advancements do not replace traditional communications but add to the pile of information that the typical worker must deal with. The key point was that an estimated 60% of electronic mail is copied onto paper.

Well, duh. No wonder the workers are overloaded.

Blaming the technology for this is futile. Anyone smart enough to operate an E-mail system should be able to figure out how to reduce this overload: just don’t print the stuff! Perhaps 10% of electronic messages need to be printed. Maybe you need a copy to take into a meeting or away from the office. But do you really need to print it out so you can handle it at your desk? Do you really need a paper file copy when you can file it online?

Develop skills for managing e-mail

  • Teach yourself to file messages in your E-mail software. Learn to copy them into your word processor, add comments, and file them in an organized way. Share techniques with a colleague.
  • Learn to write clean, short e-mails that quickly indicate what they are about and what action is required.
  • Learn to use a focused, informative subject line that clearly says what the note is about, and will be useful in future retrieval of the message.
  • Take a moment to think about who you’re sending this to. Do they all need it? Will they welcome it?

Push those skills out

If you’re a manager, help your staff do this. Encourage sharing of techniques. Hold mini-seminars. Set expectations. Recognize successes. And don’t forget to lead by example.

If you’re not a manager, write a newsletter article or something similar. Offer to give a mini-presentation at a staff meeting.

Also: Ending Information Overload