Skip to main content

7 tips to combat email overload and enhance workplace productivity

Email had became a productivity hog for me and I was overwhelmed by it. I am working for Egnyte since last 6 years and every year not only the team has expanded but with it the number of emails I receive has increased. New processes get added and new mailing lists get created and  someone adds you to it and now you are blasted with this news feed like twitter firehose. The longer your tenure the more mailing lists you are on. It seems I was working all day, but as a programmer/Architect by heart I was not getting satisfaction if I hadn't coded anything by the end of day or solved a meaty problem in a quarter.

Reaching to InboxZero was a mirage to me, you are this close to it and then suddenly in an hour you are blasted 20 emails and there goes another hour sifting through it to see if you have missed anything important.  Programming/Architecture is a creative field and you require decent uninterrupted hours every day to make an impact but for me I wasn’t getting satisfaction.  I would be done by my calls/emails by 3:00 PM or 4:00 PM and then your brain is so overwhelmed that you are looking for quick fix work instead of taking on big problems. An year ago to get more time for coding I started doing team calls 2-3 times a week instead of daily calls but it wasn't helping much and realized Email overload is the biggest problem I need to solve. I started doing research and picking people's brain on it. Last month I had a talk with a VP at an outsourcing firm and he gave me some tips on combating email overload. I tried some of them and last 2 sprints I was able to write code and shipped things I wanted to do months ago. Below are some of the tips he gave me and I hope it helps others also.
  1. Allocate fixed time slots in morning/evenings when you would reply to emails and fight that urge to check email every hour.
  2. Turn off mobile push notifications/GMail desktop notifications. If its an emergency, someone will call you.
  3. Do not use email for Synchronous communication, no wonder every few days I see an article on how Slack/Hipchat is killing email in my Flipboard feed. If you are on an email thread and you are seeing people replying left and right then Pick up Phone/Skype/Slack/Hipchat and call people instead of trying to resolve the issue over email. Only issue there is switching context from asynchronous to synchronous communication but I saw an interesting twist on Marrying Chat and Enterprise Email with Tracked communication in my feed.
  4. Religiously use GMail filters to combat unnecessary emails:
    1. Only allow emails directly addressed TO you to land into your main inbox.  You may need to train your inbox daily to do this and in a week or so you would be at optimal state.  
    2. Move email from mailing lists to separate folder and look at them only when you have time. As per the VP I talked to most of the emails on mailing lists are CYA emails and can wait for your attention.
    3. Mark all confirmation/receipt emails unread and move to a separate folder
    4. Mark email from certain closed group of people(your boss off course is on it) as more important and process them before other emails. 
    5. If you are on an email in TO list with 5 other people then treat it like a mailing list and it can wait your attention.
  5. Only sync main inbox to mobile and not all the other tags/folders.
  6. Respect other people's time and copy them only if needed. Think 3 times if you are sending email to a mailing list as you are increasing other people's email overload whenever you send an email to mailing list.
  7. Process your inbox in LIFO order. Sometimes people will send you an email and if they don’t get reply in a finite amount of time they would figure it out themselves so processing in LIFO helps.

But the most important is to value your time because if you wont then no one else will, think are you adding more value replying to emails or doing the real tasks.  Even within tasks pick the high impact tasks first before picking up quick fix tasks.

As per last year venturebeat article SendGrid had sent out almost as many emails as McDonald’s had sold burgers. SendGrid reports that it has sent more than 300 billion emails since launch, equating to an average of 435 million emails per day, or 15 billion emails per month.

In short I think EMail is going to stay for a long time and we would have to combat the email overload by using email for what its best at "asynchronous communication" and do not use it for "synchronous communication".


Popular posts from this blog

Startup Engineers should learn this one trait

Engineers are creative creatures who like to solve problems and build things. When you build something it becomes a part of you, no wonder that IKEA desk that took you 2 hours to assemble in an apartment has a lot of sentimental value than the Haverty desk you paid 3 times the price and just shipped it to home. Gardeners are also like that and the blackberries I grow in my backyard have a lot of sentimental value than the sweet ones I can buy from the store even though the home grown are sour 50% or more times .

Given a problem there can be many designs to solve it and sometimes we pick one design and worked tirelessly for days to add few new classes and a shining new framework and then send it for code review and someone outsider with a devil's advocate view comes up with a new simple design to solve the same problem or sometimes unconsciously you would come up with another simple solution to the same problem but you hold back and you keep investing time trying to make the origi…

Can you remain a fullstack developer?

I started as a full stack developer 14 years ago but these days its becoming more and more difficult to remain a one. Back in those days all you needed to know was html/css/Js/jsp/java/sql/ant/xml and some tools like tomcat, svn, eclipse and some shell scripting and you are a full stack developer. Being full stack developer means you can code from UI layer to server to database and peel any layer of onion to trace an issue.

Now a days you may need to know 20 different technologies in each area before you can easily navigate between layers. Life becomes difficult if its a distributed system. In UI you may need to know
ReactAngularJquerySASSHTML5JavascriptNode.jsGrunt and many more In server you need to know
JavaSpringHibernate or any OR toolGuavaNginxHaproxyMemcached and many more.  In Database you may need to know
MysqlNOSQL databases like Cassandra or MongoDBShardingAWS Aurora or RDSElasticSearchRedisOpenTSDBHadoop Big data services like BigQuery and many more On top of that …

Seven things doing a 1000 piece puzzle has common with complex engineering projects

I was doing grocery shopping during the New Year holidays and the store had a lot of 1000 piece puzzle on sale for $11. My son had never done more than 100 pieces and  I was like hey this seems interesting for him, so I bought one. We started working it on Jan13th and finished between 4 people on Jan25th. During the journey of finishing I saw a lot of similarities with complex engineering projects. I think everyone in engineering should do one of these and here are some of the things I learned.

Underestimating the task: I grossly underestimated the task and amount of time it would take for my son to do it.Teamwork: After a day or two I realized my son lost interest, the whole family had to be involved to keep him motivated on it.Prep work: Like engineering projects, you need to do a lot of prep work like:Turn  the pieces down Study the patternsSort the piecesDivide and rule: Like engineering projects you need to pick some quick wins initially to get off the ground and start assigning t…