For most of us, the pandemic has continued to blur the lines between work life and home life. Employees are simultaneously confronting the pressures of heavier workloads, kids at home and elder care, resulting in increased burnout, among other things. As highlighted in MetLife’s most recent U.S Employee Benefit Trends Study, workers across the board felt much worse than they did a year ago, with 34% of respondents feeling burned out, up from 27% last April. “People are saying they’re less productive, less engaged, that they don’t feel as successful,” says Todd Katz, executive vice president and head of group benefits at MetLife. One reason is that workers are suffering from email overload. The expansion of the virtual workforce means we rely more heavily on email communication versus face-to-face interaction. And according to a survey conducted by Superhuman, email fatigue is the cause of rising dissatisfaction with remote work. Not only that—more than one-third of employees surveyed said email and message overload might lead them to quit their jobs.
Here are some ways to handle email overload so you can decrease interruptions, reduce stress and boost productivity.
Check email at designated times
According to a McKinsey report, the average professional spends 28% of the workday reading and answering email. That equates to a staggering 2.6 hours spent and 120 messages received per day. For many of you, that may not even come close to the email overload that you experience. To ensure that you are not getting derailed by every incoming message, check email at specific times. One way to do this is to schedule several thirty-minute time blocks on your calendar. Behavioral experiments show that people who check emails just a few times a day report less stress than those who constantly monitor throughout the day. Allow yourself to focus on your work by switching off unnecessary notifications and eliminating other distractions.
Develop communication rules
According to statistics, 57% of employees report not being given clear direction, and 69% of managers are uncomfortable communicating with employees. Given that most employees are working remotely, it’s even more critical to establish effective communication in the workplace. With so many tools available like Zoom and Slack, there is bound to be confusion around when to use what platform. Set up some time with your team to discuss communication guidelines. For example, refrain from hitting “reply all” unless you think everyone on the list needs to receive the email. Or, if you need to get a simple answer from a coworker, like an answer to a yes or no question, use instant messaging instead of email. Once aligned on the usage of the different platforms, create a shared guidelines document. By taking the time to agree with your team on communication rules, you’ll experience fewer distractions and eliminate email overload.
Clear out your inbox
Full inboxes waste 27 minutes per day, according to one Harvard Business Review article. Because when we check a crowded inbox, we end up re-reading emails over and over again. Without a plan to clear out unwanted emails, the backlog keeps building. On average, professionals have more than 200 emails in their inbox and receive 120 new ones each day but respond to only 25% of them. The antidote is the single-touch rule. This means always acting on emails after reading them the first time. A popular productivity approach is the 4 Ds model, where you have four options: delete it, do it, delegate it or defer it. Remember to review your list of deferred tasks at the end of the day if you follow this approach. At that point, you can decide whether you want to act on them or delete them.
Set up inbox filters
Many email providers let you set up inbox filters or rules that can help you quickly categorize emails without wasting valuable time. To stay on top of the hundreds of emails that find their way to her each day, Rachel Neill, CEO of Carex Consulting Group, takes advantage of Outlook’s rules functions. “I have rules set up that put emails into different folders, color code, and prioritize based on sender,” she says. Then, at the end of the day, she’ll quickly scan for anything she may have missed. “The rules help make sure I’m following up consistently and blocking noise. This helps me keep the clutter to a minimum.”
Unsubscribe from unwanted email
Are you a newsletter addict? Newsletters and promotions can overwhelm your inbox and bury important messages. Clean out the clutter to avoid email overload. The simplest way to remove yourself from a list is to use the unsubscribe link usually located at the bottom of the message. Another option is to unsubscribe from emails in a big batch using a service like Unroll.me or Leave Me Alone. The only downside is that you have to give these services complete access to your inbox to find messages with an unsubscribe option, and sometimes that includes your contacts.
According to the Superhuman study, an overwhelming 96% of remote workers say it’s vital to achieve Inbox Zero—the clean slate when every email has been archived, delegated, or answered. But unfortunately, many employees struggle to get there. Don’t wait to tackle the clutter. By following these strategies, you will successfully conquer even the most unruly inbox.