How to drastically reduce email overload

Reduce your email overload with these strategies to reduce the number of messages in your Inbox

Create a laser-sharp focus in your inbox

Do you suffer from email overload? Do you receive dozens, perhaps hundreds of emails every day, many of which you don’t need, but all of which take up your precious time? You’re not alone. Many of us receive too many emails. Many are unimportant. These clutter the important ones, leading to wasted time and energy. It’s not uncommon for people suffering from email overload to miss those that need an urgent response.

Are you addicted to email?

A 2015 study into email usage by Adobe found that people are ‘practically addicted to email’. We check email while watching television, resting in bed, in the bathroom, on vacation and while on the phone. The average person spends around six hours a day handling their email. Nine out of ten check personal email at work and work email at home.

Email is a tool, like meetings, phone calls, workshops and brainstorming sessions. It’s an aid to work, but not the work itself. Working towards email excellence and kicking your email addiction requires a totally new mindset.

This blog post will help you achieve that mindset and reduce email overload. There are two strategies for achieving this:

  • Reduce the number of incoming emails
  • Create focus on the important emails by filtering out the unimportant

Reduce the number of incoming emails

In my last blog post, I discussed how to handle your incoming emails and empty your inbox in no time. The email handling routines described in that post help you prioritise emails and work towards the target of ‘Inbox Zero’. Below, I describe several routines you can use to reduce the number of emails coming into your inbox.

I advise all my clients to cherry pick from these routines, choose those most relevant for your situation, and make them part of your email strategy.

1. Limit the use of ‘CC’ when you send emails

On average, every work email sent is ‘CC’d’ to three recipients. This means you could get four replies. Limit the number of people you include as CC recipients, and you reduce the replies you receive. It’s one of the best ways to immediately cut the number of non-essential emails cluttering your inbox. Here’s how to decide when to CC:

  • Before adding people in the CC field, think whether they really, and I mean really, need to be included. We often overestimate who really needs to know. Think twice before ‘CC-ing’ someone.
  • When replying to emails, never use ‘Reply All’, but instead reply only to the sender.

If you change your way of thinking, from ‘everyone needs to know everything’ to ‘who really needs to know this?’, you will move towards the ultimate goal of this routine – sending every message to only one person.

2. Unsubscribe

The work of one of my clients is heavily research-based. He subscribes to different offerings, perhaps to receive a single piece of information vital to his work. He came to me, complaining about how his email inbox was reducing his productivity. Together, we worked on a strategy of unsubscribing:

  • Unsubscribe drastically. If you haven’t opened a newsletter, unsubscribe from it!
  • Only remain subscribed if the content you receive is valuable every time you receive it.

We’re often too precious about our email subscriptions. If you were paying, say, €100 per month for a gym subscription, but never used the gym, would you continue waving your money goodbye? Treat your email subscriptions in the same way. If you find that you need the information again, you can always re-subscribe.

3. Send fewer emails yourself

Every email sent begs for a reply. They are like boomerangs: the more you send, the more come flying back. Before you write an email, take a few moments to consider:

  1. Is it really necessary to send this message?
  2. Is email the best method to communicate my message? (see also strategy 4 below)

If the answer to either of these two questions is “no”, then don’t send the email!

4. Consider other forms of communication

Email has become a habit. It’s easy to compose and send. However, it might not be the best way to get the message across. Maybe it is easier to discuss quickly on the phone, or maybe the situation actually asks for a group meeting, which enables immediate discussion. Before sending an email, think about other types of communication, such as:

  • A phone call
  • One-to-one meetings
  • Group meetings
  • Virtual meetings (e.g. Skype) and conference calls
  • Text messages and instant messaging
  • Social media
  • Project management platforms (such as Trello, Teamwork, Asana, or Slack)

5. Don’t reply immediately

It’s tempting to reply to emails immediately, but email should never be urgent. If you reply immediately to every email you receive, you are setting a level of expectation that you will always do so. You’ll receive more emails, and everyone will expect an immediate response.

You don’t have to spend all your time in your inbox. You don’t need to respond to every email immediately. I suggest you only check your emails twice a day (as I concluded in my post, How to handle your incoming emails and empty your inbox in no time

6. Eliminate questions and reduce email discussions

If you ask a question, you ask for a response. Open questions trigger long answers. Emails suddenly become essays, and these essays lead to email long discussions. If you must ask a question, ask a closed question. Better yet, shape your question as a ‘decision made’. For example, consider the difference between:

  • “Do you fancy lunch today?”
  • "Lunch today, 12:15? Meet at the entrance door.”

7. Educate people around you: Discuss how you prefer to use email

This is possibly the hardest of all strategies, but one of the most important. Everyone works differently, especially with email. It’s imperative that you explain how you prefer working with email. You may even shape the way on which others use their email. Here are some things you should let your co-workers know:

  • You only check inbox twice per day.
  • You will always respond (if necessary) within 24 hours (on working days).
  • You prefer to do urgent stuff by phone or text (instant message), or face-to-face if it is a colleague in the office.
  • They should not CC you in to every email, and that when you are included as a CC recipient you apply a lower level of importance to the email.
  • Depending on the situation, you should use the most appropriate communication methods (as per strategy 4 above).

Create focus on the important emails by filtering out the unimportant

Ideally you only have the most important messages in your inbox so that you can focus your time and energy. Most email applications allow you to create rules to help you filter messages which are not so important. These can be moved automatically to dedicated folders without even touching your inbox. This is a great way to create more focus in the Inbox.
This article by Ben Stegner provides guidance on how to set up email filters and/or rules in Gmail, Yahoo Mail and Outlook. Use this when applying the strategies mentioned below.

Here are eight filters you can use to decrease the number of unimportant messages in your Inbox:

1. Filter out emails when you are a CC recipient

By definition, emails in which you are not a main recipient are less important. Set your email application rules to filter all emails on which you are a CC recipient and move them to a ‘CC’ folder. You can then handle these later.

2. Filter newsletters

If you have followed routine 2 in reducing the number of incoming emails (‘Unsubscribe’), you should have eliminated all the newsletters you no longer want to receive. However, there are likely to be newsletters you do want to receive but that you don’t need to review immediately.

Automate your email application to filter your newsletters into a newsletter folder, bypassing the inbox.

3. Filter out long ‘read later’ emails

There will be long emails which aren’t among your most important emails, but which you still want to read. These might include content such as company news, project updates, and specialist articles. You may need to do this manually, moving these messages into a dedicated ‘To Read’ folder. You might also be able to automate this with a rule/filter – for example, when you receive similar messages regularly (i.e. company news).

4. Deal with social media updates

Most of your social media accounts send updates via email. Every time someone comments on or shares a social media post, you’ll receive an email alert. If you really need these, set up a filter that automatically moves them to a single ‘social media’ folder.

The best strategy for social media updates, though, is to switch them off completely (or at least the ones you don’t need). Check and update the notification settings on your social media profiles.

5. Meeting invites

Collect all meeting invites into a single folder. This way you can handle them as a batch, immediately identifying conflicts in your schedule. Automate this by filtering them out of your inbox by ‘type of message’.

6. Deal with individuals, or VIPS’s

There will probably be emails from individuals that you wish to separate. These might be from your most important contacts – perhaps your boss, biggest clients, or your partner. Again, you can set automated filters to do this for you.

7. Group emails

You may receive regular emails from groups. These might be project groups, coaching groups, committees you’re on, sports teams, etc. Filter these automatically into your ‘Group Messages’ folder.

8. Ads

You probably receive ads for companies that you want to keep. For example, special offers from local grocery stores, your favourite clothes shops or furniture stores. These aren’t urgent, yet important enough to browse now and then. Create a filter to move these types of emails to an ‘Ads’ folder.

Reduce your email overload immediately!

In this post, I’ve discussed several routines that will help to limit the number of emails currently flooding your inbox. Instead of an inbox full of time-consuming, energy-wasting emails, you’ll see only those emails which require your focus.

Using the above strategies and routines, you can filter out specific messages from your incoming emails. Emails will automatically be directed to their dedicated folders, rather than wasting time on handling manually. Automated email rules/filters will save you even more time, as your inbox is decluttered before you even open it.

When it comes to emails, the biggest time and energy saver is to limit the number of messages in your inbox. Get rid of those that don’t require your attention, and retain the ones that are important. You should start today – each email routine you put in place will make your email handling a little easier, reducing the email overload that is clogging your day. This will help you achieve more, and be better than ever!