It’s how most of us start our workday: log on to email, then watch as the flood of unread messages begins. Before you’ve even set foot in the office, you’ve likely shot off a dozen or so responses for things that simply couldn’t wait. (Or could they?)

The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) estimates the average worker gets 72 emails a day. The volume most people receive has turned a once efficient channel into the exact opposite — but you can do something about it.

  1. DON’T ASSUME EMAIL IS THE ONLY WAY TO GET AN ANSWER

    Before you respond to an email or start a new one, consider the desired end result — and whether email is the path of least resistance. Looking for a “yes” or “no” answer, and don’t need the response documented? Pick up the phone. Need input from a working group? A group conference call empowers team members to talk through feedback and differences of opinion in real-time. You may invest a bigger block of time into a phone conversation, but it could prove more productive than a series of group email exchanges that clutter inboxes, waste time and introduce the chance of miscommunication.

  2. CUT TO THE CHASE

    Reduce the likelihood that one email will morph into a series of back-and-forth exchanges by stating your business — and desired action — upfront. Have an urgent need? Include a phrase like “response needed” in the email subject line. In the email itself, reiterate your purpose, next steps or action you want the recipient to take, and your deadline in the top part of your message. Use bullet points or bolded words to increase readability. Correct spelling errors, and avoid using jargon, acronyms or lingo that could cause confusion.

  3. SCHEDULE INBOX BREAKS

    Visual and audio email notifications are designed to get your attention but they inherently break your focus. If your employer doesn’t require that you be available by instant message or email throughout the workday, schedule 20 minutes an hour to check your inbox — and close your email window for the other 40 minutes.

  4. CHECK EMAIL WITH A PLAN

    Tackle emails that are urgent and require your immediate attention first; move those on which you are cc’ed but do not require immediate action into an appropriately labeled email folder; add any future required follow-up to your to-do list. Delete emails that are promotional or spam. Set a timer to limit your activity to 20 minutes, and aim to have an empty inbox once time is up.

    Reduce the likelihood that one email will morph into a series of back and forth exchanges by stating your business — and desired action — upfront.
  5. RESIST MULTIPLE DEVICE MULTITASKING

    Resist surrounding yourself with multiple devices like computers, phones and tablets in your workstation. One study on multitasking in the workplace revealed that the median duration of focus to online content is only about 40 seconds — and that the sum total of such short bursts of focus ultimately results in lower productivity at the end of the day.

  6. DON’T CHECK EMAIL IN THE EVENING

    SHRM reports that 70 percent of employees check email after 6 p.m. Constant connectivity erodes work-life balance and contributes to stress and, eventually, burnout. Enable automatic reply messages to set expectations for those who send email after hours. Clarify when you will check and respond to messages that are received after the workday. Consider providing an emergency number the person can contact you at for an immediate response — if the matter is urgent (and it may alleviate the stress you may feel about disconnecting).

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