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7 tips to combat email overload and enhance workplace productivity

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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".

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