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Jun 16, 2015

Who Needs an Empty Inbox? Four Ways You Can Deal With a Crowded Inbox Without Feeling Stressed

This post originally appeared on the Communication section of Business 2 Community. To read more content like this, subscribe to

It's no secret that the office can be an overwhelming place, in fact more than two-thirds of U.S.employees suffer from work overload, according to Cornerstone's "The State of Workplace Productivity Report." What's more, the stress caused by work overload seriously harms employee productivity.

What's the biggest cause of stress? A study conducted by FewClix and Kelton Global found that this could be email, with 38 million Americans saying they feel more stressed as their inbox fills ups. Ironically, one in six Americans say organizing their email actually decreases their productivity.

Here are four tips on how to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the number of emails in your inbox.

  1. Stop using your inbox as a to-do list

    Do you deal with email volume by using your inbox as a task management tool? Many professionals associate an empty inbox (aka inbox zero) with a completed to-do list, but this approach is not risk free. While email certainly plays a role in determining what's on your list of deliverables for the day, spending time moving ‘completed' emails out of your inbox sucks time. It causes you to fixate on the ‘email task' rather than the bigger picture of tasks you need to complete, those that directly impact how and when your key goals are achieved.

    What to do? Instead of focusing on your inbox, spend time focusing on your goals for the day and use a task management tool to help schedule your email tasks around these activities.

  2. Say "NO" to folders

    You may organize your emails into folders because you think that this helps to deal with the number of messages you receive each day. Folders give the comfort of an organized mailbox, but many times decrease our ability to find emails from days or weeks ago. A McKinsey Global study found that employees spend a whopping 28 percent of their work week on email! One of the best ways to save time on email is to minimize the time spent on organizing messages into folders and then struggling to find them when you can't remember if you put them into the ‘monthly reports' or ‘admin' or ‘client notes' folder. Many emails could fit in more than one folder – so you spend time twice over – once filing a message and then trying to find it!

    What to do? Use folders sparingly. Afraid you will never be able to find a message quickly? Use one of the many embedded and free, easy-to-use search tools in the market.

  3. Don't let email take over your day

    How often does the ping of an incoming email distract you from the task at hand? Whether it comes from your phone, tablet or computer, it's likely that when you hear the alert notification go off, you switch your focus. Although it's helpful to know when a new message has arrived, it's also incredibly distracting. According to research from the University of California, it can take almost 25 minutes for you to return to your important task!

    What to do? Turn off notifications, PERIOD. If you can, keep your email client closed for major parts of the day. Check email only during scheduled times or breaks during work. If you're worried you will miss an important email while you're ‘offline,' use prioritization rules for when you return to your inbox – this will help you find time sensitive messages.

  4. And finally, volume begets volume

    Constantly surprised at the volume of email you receive every day? Have you ever checked how many emails you send out? If you want to reduce your email volume, the first place to investigate is your backyard (Sent items). Every time you send an email, you are inviting a response. Every time you mark multiple recipients in an email, you are inviting multiple responses back.

    What to do? The next time you need to send an email, ask yourself if there is an alternative that would work as well. If you have physical access to your proposed recipient, just pop over. Other options are to pick up your phone or to use your organization's instant messaging tool. Is it a file you need to share, try a cloud-based service like Dropbox or Google Drive?

What are some of the ways you use to manage your crowded inbox?

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